1993 Home Sweet Homer
After his dramatic home run gave the Blue Jays a second straight World Series title, Joe Carter touched home plate and touched off a SkyDome mob scene
by Steve Rushin
Issue date: November 1, 1993
"An unbelievable dream fantasy," then, is how Blue Jay reliever Al Leiter described what happened at 11:39 on Saturday night in Toronto. "This happens in the backyard. Bottom of the ninth, down by one, and Joe pops one out of the park? You dream it all those years as a kid, and then here you are, in the World Series, and it happens?"
This is what happened in Game 6 of the 90th World Series: Joe Carter hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Jays an 8-6 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies and their second consecutive world championship. As Phillie reliever Mitch Williams (page 22) left the field in torment, Carter joyously triple-jumped around the base paths at the SkyDome, bounding up and down like Neil Armstrong on the moon. Which is, in effect, who Joe Carter had just become.
He said he understood that his life had changed with that swing, that he was now a piece of history, the kind of athletic artifact that Kirk Gibson is wherever he goes. So be it. "This is like, Do you believe in miracles?" said Carter, when he had found the home team's clubhouse through tear-stung eyes. "Yes, I do believe in miracles."
Every day and never. Understand, no other man has done this. When Bill Mazeroski hit his historic home run for the Pittsburgh Pirates in Game 7 in 1960, the only other year in which a home run ended the Series, the game had been tied when he came to the plate. That isn't the way it was in Oklahoma City, where Joe Carter first left a yard. On the asphalt at his father's filling station, the boy was always down a run when he shot rubber bands off his fingers and into the wind. He pretended they were flying baseballs. "If the rubber band landed on the roof, it was a home run," said Carter. "If it didn't land on the roof, it was a foul ball or something. Tonight, it didn't land on the roof, but over the fence was good enough."
The ball a 2-2 fastball, down and in landed 379 feet from home plate, in the Blue Jay bullpen behind the leftfield wall. It detonated fireworks inside the Dome and outside in the cold Canadian night, and it occasioned a string of heartbreakingly corny scenes . . . everywhere.
John Sullivan, the Blue Jays' 52-year-old bullpen coach, who is retiring after this season, retrieved the very baseball that ended his 34-year career in the major and minor leagues. Sully, in shower slippers and a T-shirt, would soon see Carter in the clubhouse and say, as if handing him a leftover orange, "I thought you might want this." Of course, a man from the Hall of Fame was already waiting at Carter's locker, like a grim banker come to repossess. Carter let that guy have only his bat. He had no idea where his cap was. The ball, Carter was keeping.
The hero had stepped from the thundering field into the clubhouse, where a bottle of champagne was thrust into his left hand. He had stepped from the raucous clubhouse into the corridor outside, on his way to a press conference, when a World Series program was thrust toward his right hand. Carter kept walking through the bowels of the SkyDome as he signed for a boy, maybe 10 years old, whose chin was quivering, whose eyes were watering, who looked about to burst out sobbing when he said to the departing Carter, "You're the best, Joe."
Really. The kid said that.
There was a lipstick smudge on the sleeve of Carter's T-shirt, left there by his wife, Diana. Invisible were the buss marks of his teammates, a collection of men who, on an ordinary night, make Stonehenge look expressive. These men had swallowed Carter whole at home plate. "I just went nuts," insisted Blue Jay first baseman John Olerud, who seldom goes nuts or anywhere near it. "Oh, yeah. Look at the replay. You'll see me bouncing up and down out there."
In fact, Carter looked at the replay when the moment was but an hour old, ducking into the Blue Jays' video room to see the insanity one more time and emerging with newly moist eyes. "The fans in Philadelphia saw a great 15-14 ball game," Carter said, by way of explaining his feat. "I guess we had to give something to the fans in Toronto."
Ah. The home run, to hear Carter tell it, was only a fair exchange for the Great 15-14 Ball Game, the epic James A. Michener's Philadelphia which had concluded three nights earlier in the City of Brotherly Love. The Great 15-14 Ball Game was Game 4 at Veterans Stadium, the highest-scoring game in the 532-game history of the World Series. It set or tied 13 records in all. It was the longest nine-inning night game ever played in the major leagues, four hours and 14 minutes of imponderably poor pitching that somehow made for powerful entertainment. "It was," veteran Toronto scout Gordon Lakey said afterward, "the most exciting game I've ever seen."
The Blue Jays led the series 2-1 when Game 4 began in a relentless drizzle. Major League Baseball officials sat morosely in a roofless Plexiglas box behind home plate, each one of them looking like a man in a dunk tank, as untold indignities were visited upon their pastime. In the top of the first, Phillie starter Tommy Greene walked in the first Blue Jay run. In the bottom of the first, Toronto starter Todd Stottlemyre walked in the first Phillie run. All told, there were six walks in the first inning, at the end of which the score was Philadelphia 4, Toronto 3.
If Carter's home run was the enduring heroic image of this Fall Classic, then a Classic Pratfall in the second inning of Game 4 was a slapstick memory that also will remain: Stottlemyre inexplicably attempting to go from first to third on a single by Roberto Alomar; Stottlemyre sliding face-first as if he were sniffing for truffles around third base; Stottlemyre being thrown out, improbably, 8 to 6 to 5; and Stottlemyre, his chin bloodied, being asked by trainer Tommy Craig to read the unfathomable scoreboard (of all things) to prove his coherence.
After three innings of this nonsense, the Blue Jays led 7-6. In the fifth, Jay reliever Leiter, one bead in a very long necklace of relievers who would pitch on this night, was contemplating his first major league at bat. "See how this feels," teammate Ed Sprague suggested, offering one of his bats.
"I don't give a how it feels," said a laughing Leiter, whose last hit came for Central Regional High in Bayville, N.J., where he batted .220 in 1984. He wasn't going up there to hit, for Pete's sake. And yet Leiter immediately doubled to leftfield and felt a little silly afterward for worrying about one little AB.
After all . . . "What's the worst thing that can happen?" Phillie centerfielder Lenny Dykstra had asked last week, apropos of playing in the World Series, before answering his own question. "You can become a hero." That's the worst thing that can happen to you in the World Series.
So Dykstra became a hero in Game 4, hitting two home runs, missing a third by two feet and driving in four runs altogether. The Phils drove Leiter out of the game in the fifth inning, when they scored five times to take a 12-7 lead. Then, and only then, did all hell break loose.
Blue Jay manager Cito Gaston had called for reliever Tony Castillo to come in from the bullpen to replace Leiter. But the bullpen phone didn't work. It kept ringing and ringing but Great Cito's Ghost! there was never a voice at the other end. And no one was eager to answer the bell, anyway. As Leiter would note of the bullpen phone on this October evening of carnage, "You just say, I hope it's not for me." So Mark Eichhorn, a righthander, had mistakenly come in from the pen to relieve Leiter, and Cito wanted to know why Castillo, a southpaw, wasn't there instead.
Well, 23 people eventually congregated in the infield during this pitching change: There were guys in business suits, umpires, players, the Vet grounds crew spreading water-absorbent kitty litter around the bases and the batter's box . . . there were clowns juggling, men on unicycles spinning plates (or so it seemed, anyway). From overhead the game looked like an Esther Williams routine. Cito was given walkie-talkies to communicate with his relievers, but they didn't work either, and he eventually made do with human carrier pigeons running back and forth between the dugout and the bullpen.
In the sixth inning, in a game in which 19 runs had already been scored, Phillie manager Jim Fregosi, whose phone, alas, was working just fine, brought in reliever David West. Entering the game West had a World Series earned run average of infinity: He had faced eight batters, and eight batters had reached base against him. As did the first two batters on this night. When, finally, Carter flied out to right, West had reduced his lifetime Series ERA to 162.00.
It was unimaginable, then, and downright unheroic, when the Jays gave up in the seventh inning. Down 13-9, Gaston sent his pitcher, Castillo, to the plate to lead off the inning. " ," said Dykstra little more than an hour later, recalling the moment in disbelief. "They gave up."
They gave up in a World Series game; and what's more, in the bottom of the seventh inning, Castillo hit Phillie catcher Darren Daulton with the bases loaded. For the love of god, Castillo HBP'd in a run, making the score 14-9. You don't see that often in the World Series, but then, you don't see this often either: The Blue Jays scored six runs in the top of the eighth off Phillie relievers Larry Andersen and Williams, run after run lapping up at home plate. The Blue Jays gave up, but Phillie pitchers gave in, and Toronto won the Great 15-14 Ball Game, 15-14.
And so, after Toronto centerfielder Devon White tripled in the last two of the half-dozen runs and then in the ninth caught a fly ball for the final out of the game, Blue Jay pitcher Dave Stewart, who played his first professional game in 1975, was asked for perspective. "Never seen one like it," said Stew. Not in spring training. Not in high school. Not in high school football, he said. "Two touchdowns," said Stewart, "is usually safe."
So how can it be that the next night, in Game 5, all the Phillies needed was a safety in Curt Schilling's hellacious 2-0 complete-game win over the Blue Jays? "Why do you have steak one night," asked Alomar, "and chicken the next?" A good question. And speaking of food, a fan in Philadelphia held a sign during Thursday night's game that read, WILL PITCH MIDDLE RELIEF FOR FOOD. As the team flied to Toronto for Game 6 on Saturday, trailing in the Series 3-2, things were that bad for the Phils' bullpen.
Of course, few people knew that the Phillies had received two calls from some yahoos threatening the life of Williams on Thursday night, and it would have been forgivable if Game 6 were not the foremost thing on his mind on Saturday. That night, behind the 37-year-old Series MVP Paul Molitor (page 28) and the four-hit pitching of Stewart, the Blue Jays led 5-1 after six innings. But the Phillies threw up a ridiculous five-spot in the seventh inning three of the runs coming on Dykstra's sixth home run of the postseason and took a 6-5 lead into the eighth, when the Jays failed to score with the bases loaded. Thus, the one-run lead remained in the ninth, when Williams entered.
On this night Toronto leadoff hitter Rickey Henderson walked on four pitches. White flied out to leftfield, but Molitor singled. And then Carter came to the plate and was served that fastball down and in. "Ninety-nine times out of 100," Carter said later, "I hook that pitch way foul. I don't know why, but thank god this one stayed fair."
The ball stayed fair, but Carter lost it in the lights. He didn't pick it up again until he neared first base, heard the tinnitus-inducing din and began his jubilant romp. He still isn't sure if he touched second base "I hope they don't appeal," he said on his way to third, where he turned the corner and fought his way through a gantlet of delirious teammates. When he stepped on home plate, the Blue Jays officially became the first team to repeat as champions since the 1978 New York Yankees.
Every day and never. Carter always dreamed of hitting the home run to win the big game, of course. Who hasn't? But in 11 seasons in the big leagues, Carter had hit only one ninth-inning, game-winning home run, period: Against Dan Quisenberry of Kansas City in a meaningless game, seven years ago. But now. . . . Now, he said, children will emulate his trip around the bases after he hit the come-from-behind home run to win the World Series. Carter has three children of his own, and when he returns to his home in Kansas City, he likes to play ball with kids in the neighborhood. Kids for whom the neighbor's fence is the leftfield fence at the SkyDome. What would he say to those children who may still have been awake at 11:39 on Saturday night?
"Don't be afraid to live out your dreams," said Carter. "Don't be afraid of failure, either. If you fail, so what? If I was out in the ninth inning, there was another guy coming up behind me."
n other words, what's the worst thing that can happen when you dream? You can become a hero.
November 1, 1993
The Complete Player;
Paul Molitor had everything but the recognition that comes with a World Series triumph and he found that in Toronto
by TOM VERDUCCI
IT WAS AFTER THE FIREWORKS had burst and crackled above him, after Joe Carter had thrown his arms around him and shouted in his ear, "Hey, this is for you," and after a roar went up in Toronto that would carry all the way up Yonge Street the longest street in the world that a great feeling of relief washed over Paul Molitor. It came in the middle of all that euphoria around home plate at the SkyDome last Saturday night. It hit him so fast and so hard that he wept right there on the field. "Yes," he said later, "and I'm not ashamed or embarrassed to admit that."
A journey had ended, and Molitor knew it. He had waited 16 years for a world championship, and it arrived on the lightning bolt of Carter's ninth-inning home run. To get to this point Molitor had endured, over the years, a pulled rib cage muscle, torn ligaments in an ankle and an elbow, a sprained ankle, a torn hamstring, a dislocated finger, an impinged shoulder, a fractured knuckle, a broken thumb and, worst of all, a broken heart. Only now was he whole.
"I definitely respect the game, and that's why I felt a somberness, a stillness, knowing how long I'd waited to feel that," he said. "It was everything I imagined. Days and weeks and months from now, I'm sure it will grow deeper and deeper in meaning. But right now I'm very peaceful with it. Yes, you get excited, and there's a rush of adrenaline. But there's something very peaceful about it."
The last blow belonged to Carter, but the Fall Classic belonged to Molitor, the Blue Jay designated hitter who, at 37, became the World Series MVP. It wasn't just his 12 hits in 24 at bats or his record-tying 10 runs or his 24 total bases (one short of another record) that made him so deserving. It was that at last, after 15 seasons in Milwaukee and one in Canada, the world came to know him as he has been all these years: a template of the refined ballplayer. At the start of the World Series, Blue Jay manager Cito Gaston had called him "the best-kept secret in baseball." Now the secret is out.
Molitor wants only to play the game and to play it right. When he crushed a 393-foot home run to give Toronto a 5-1 lead in Game 6, he briefly considered making a show of his exuberance. But as he rounded second base, he caught the gaze of his father in the stands and settled instead for that knowing moment of eye contact because "it's much more respectful to the opposition."
Respect for the game is what he showed when he grounded a ball to shortstop in the ninth inning of Game 3, with his team six runs ahead and the hour approaching one o'clock in the morning; he then churned his 37-year-old legs so fast that he beat the throw to first.
"I still think that's what baseball is all about," he says. "Baseball can sell itself if it is played right. You play it the same way whether it's the playoffs, the World Series or the preseason. I've had enough baseball taken away from me, so even grounding out is not that bad."
All those injuries kept Molitor out of more than 400 games from 1980 to '90. After he stayed healthy and hit .325 and .320 the next two seasons, the Blue Jays began thinking about signing him as a free agent, and Toronto president Paul Beeston and executive vice-president Pat Gillick took him to dinner last Thanksgiving eve. As they left the restaurant, Beeston turned to Gillick and said, "Is this guy as good as he seems?" But Beeston already knew the answer.
"Paul Molitor doesn't have a phony bone in his body," Beeston says. "With some guys you ask, Is he for real? and the inquiry sign goes up immediately. With that guy, no inquiry sign went up. I said, 'Let's get it done.' "
Molitor had been a fixture with the Brewers and had grown so close to their owner, Bud Selig, that Selig says Molitor is "like a son to me." Beeston is one of Selig's best friends. "I was almost hoping we didn't get him because of my relationship with Buddy," Beeston says.
The Brewers, because of what Selig called the limited resources of a small-market team, offered Molitor an $800,000 pay cut to $2.3 million for 1993, with an option for '94. Toronto offered him $13 million over three years. On Dec. 8, only hours after Carter had re-signed with the Blue Jays, Molitor, with a bit of reluctance, accepted Toronto's offer.
Still, Molitor didn't think of himself as a Blue Jay until about six weeks into the season. By June 25, when he returned to Milwaukee's County Stadium, his heartbreak had healed. He sat across from Selig in the owner's office and said, "I was the victim of the system, wasn't I?" Now Molitor realizes, "There wasn't anyone to blame."
Molitor batted .361 after the All-Star break and finished at .332, with career highs for home runs (22) and runs batted in (111). Thanks in part to the fact that the Jays used him almost entirely as a DH, he had stayed off the disabled list for a third straight season a first for him. Over those three seasons, no one in baseball has had more hits or runs. He has cut down his swing to a nearly perfect, economical motion. He holds his hands still until the last possible moment; then, with virtually no stride, he attacks the baseball with a quick, powerful stabbing action. But it took a record six straight hits in the American League Championship Series and a .500 World Series batting average for the beauty of his swing and his entire career to be properly appreciated.
"That," he says, "is almost humorous to me. The things I've done this year, if you don't count my injuries, aren't a lot different than what I've done before."
There he stood at the plate in the ninth inning last Saturday night, better than ever at 37. With one out and Rickey Henderson on base, Molitor told himself, Man, you hit a two-run homer and you win the Series. But then he quickly corrected that notion and thought, No, play the percentages. Keep the rally moving.
Seated behind him, in a special box, was Selig, the acting commissioner. "It hurts, no question about it," Selig would say after the game. "I wanted nothing more than for Paul to win a world championship in Milwaukee. But I was not as emotional watching it as I thought I would be. We have to change the salary system. Something is very wrong when he wants to stay, and we want him, and he can't stay."
Molitor laced a fastball into centerfield for a single. Carter, batting next, then hit one into eternity. One of the first to congratulate Molitor in the clubhouse was Selig, who hugged him, kissed him lightly on the cheek and said, "I'm happy for you." When Selig left the clubhouse, Molitor's wife, Linda, threw her arms around the owner and shouted, "Thank you!" to the man who had made a world championship possible for her husband.
Molitor was touched that so many of his teammates "went out of their way to tell me how much it meant to them to see me win." As pitcher Al Leiter said, "We've had so much success here that people begin to think, 'When are we going to play, and who are we going to beat.' Then he comes here after all he's been through, and you see how precious winning is."
Pat Hentgen, a 24-year-old Blue Jay pitcher in his first full season in the big leagues, hugged Molitor around the neck. It was a minute until Hentgen let go. Then Hentgen sat down and wiped his eyes.
Molitor, save those few moments on the field, kept his emotions under control. He has made a career of maintaining the same emotional speed and pitch "Like riding a merry-go-round," he said so why lose it now? A good ballplayer always respects the game. Someone told him in the Blue Jay clubhouse that he was wanted in the interview room. Molitor headed toward the door with a bottle of champagne in one hand and a can of beer in the other. Suddenly he stopped. "I better not take these with me," he said. "It might not look too good." He bent and placed them underneath a desk and then walked out, a world champion.
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