"No one can say we choke anymore," said the Jays' Roberto Alomar. "This is a great club. We won like champions."
And the Braves once again lost like champions, as they did last season, when the World Series went seven games, five of which were decided by a solitary run. "There's no worse way to lose," said Atlanta's John Smoltz, "to get beat four games to two, when we know it could have just as easily been the other way around."
Not quite: For while the two teams combined for a sickly .225 average in the Series, Toronto simply had superior pitching. Astonishingly, the Blue Jays did not lose back-to-back games after Aug. 29, following the acquisition of righthander David Cone from the New York Mets, a streak that remained intact through the postseason. And Toronto won four one-run games in the World Series because its relievers didn't give up a run until Saturday night. "Our bullpen won this Series," said Blue Jay scout Gordon Lakey.
Perhaps that is why Toronto reliever Duane Ward, who had two wins in the Series, danced alone on a tabletop on Sunday morning, a pair of Labatt's beer bottles holstered in the back pockets of his uniform pants, celebrating in the same clubhouse where the Pittsburgh Pirates had mourned their Game 7 playoff loss to Atlanta only 11 days before.
Given that epochal playoff win by the Braves, followed by their ear-splitting split of Games 1 and 2 of the World Series on their home field, it was a release for Atlanta when last week the Braves finally vacated their nuthouse on Capitol Avenue to play Games 3, 4 and 5 in Toronto. Even there, though, one could not escape allusions to last autumn. "It was a lot louder in the Metrodome," Atlanta's David Justice said after his first taste of the SkyDome. "It was a lot tougher to play there." No fish, in other words, will ever be as big as the one baseball caught last October.
Or will it?
The roof was closed at the SkyDome for Game 3. The P.A. played bass-heavy rock and funk numbers when Toronto took batting practice but switched to ennui-inducing Muzak when the Braves took the cage. And still the Jays needed Devon intervention to win this game. In the fourth inning of the first World Series game ever played outside the U.S., Toronto centerfielder Devon White turned, sprinted and made a back-to-the-ball, chest-to-the-wall, backhanded, face-planted catch of a Justice drive to deepest center, the wall padding billowing like an air bag as White and the ball converged on it simultaneously.
Speaking of air bags, a car saleswoman had taken White and his wife, Colleen, for a test ride in a Mercedes on an off-day during the American League playoffs and wrapped the $130,000 Benz around a utility pole while the prospective buyers, in the passenger seats, bit their lips in terror (Off-day, indeed.) "After the car wreck,' an undamaged White would later say with some disdain, "I don't worry about no padded wall."
His catch touched off what should have been a triple play for Toronto: Brave baserunner Terry Pendleton passed teammate Deion Sanders or the base paths for the second out of the play, and Jay third baseman Kelly Gruber tagged Sanders on the right heel for out number 3. Alas, second base ump Bob Davidson blew the call, ruling that Gruber had missed Sanders, erasing what would have been the first World Series triple play since so long ago (1920) that it was the Cleveland Indians who made it.
The Jays trailed 2-1 in the eighth inning when Gruber homered to tie the game and end his postseason-record 0-for-23 slump. Gruber pointed to Canadian singer Anne Murray in the SkyDome stands as he crossed home plate. (Murray sang O Canada before the game and, unlike Gruber, occasionally produces a single.) When Candy Maldonado hit a bases-loaded line drive over a drawn-in outfield in the ninth, Toronto was a 3-2 winner, and Atlanta had a sense of déjà vu.