A continent turned back its clocks on Saturday night, turned them back to last October. North America gained an hour's sleep but lost several more during the 89th World Series. For the second consecutive fall, the final week of baseball required spectators to suspend disbelief, as well as all other activity, while the often glorious games were going on, deep into the night.
Baseball had little left to aspire to after the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Atlanta Braves in Saturday night's sixth and final game. Four of those six games were decided by a single run. Three of them were won in the victor's final at bat. The Braves were reduced to their final strike in the bottom of the ninth inning Saturday night before implausibly—impossibly—scoring a run to extend one of history's most extraordinary World Series games to extra innings.
Just a year after Atlanta lost to the Minnesota Twins in a once-in-a-millennium World Series, the Braves and the Jays begat another farfetched Fall Classic. "This matches up with last year's Series," Toronto relief pitcher Tom Henke said in the winners' clubhouse. "And last year's was great. Atlanta would not give up. If we'd beaten them in four straight and stomped them every time, everybody would say, 'Aw, what a boring Series.' But this...this was great for baseball."
Once again, the World Series provided a reaffirmation of faith in a troubled game and did so at the last possible instant of this often sour season. If baseball players are indeed loyal to nothing more than the high bid, would Toronto bullpen catcher Mike Maksudian have tattooed a Blue Jay logo on his left rear cheek? Would the World Series games have been, once again, as close as best friends?
And would winning mean so much to so many different people? When Toronto's 41-year-old Dave Winfield raised his bat with two out and two on in the top of the 11th of a deadlocked Game 6, his mother-in-law raised her hands in supplication to the sky above Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. "Please, Lord," prayed Louise Turner. "For David. For his momma in heaven. For my daughter, Tonya. For me. For Cito. For Canada. Please!"
Winfield then drove a 3-2 changeup from Charlie Leibrandt down the leftfield line to score two runs. That is one more than the Atlanta Braves—the Mylanta Braves—would score in the bottom of the 11th. So Winfield's double forged what would be a 4-3 win, which in turn torched a celebration both on the field in Atlanta and some 700 miles away in Toronto, where more than 45,000 fans watched the game on the big screen at the SkyDome.
"Several years from now," said losing pitcher Leibrandt in the near silence of the Brave clubhouse, well past midnight Saturday, "it will be nice just to have played in this game." Sadly for Leibrandt, he could have said the same last October, when he surrendered an 11th-inning, game-winning home run in Game 6 to Kirby Puckett of the Twins.
Once again, a World Series that was good for baseball was a hazard to human health. "I'm exhausted," Toronto first baseman Joe Carter said 30 minutes after both Game 6 and the Series finally stopped beating. "I'm drained. I have nothing left."
Nothing. Not even the ball that Carter caught at 10 minutes to one on Sunday morning to end the four-hour-and-seven-minute game. He didn't even have that. With two outs and a runner at third in the bottom of the 11th, Atlanta's Otis Nixon laid down a bunt that Blue Jay reliever Mike Timlin fielded flawlessly near the mound and then threw to Carter for the out, the win and posterity. But a half hour after the game, Carter had already returned to Timlin the season's last baseball, which was largely indistinguishable from all those that had gone before it: white trimmed in red, not unlike the Canadian flag.
Immediately after Canada laid claim to America's game, America's most famous Canadian (Wayne Gretzky) worked a clubhouse filled with Canada's most famous Americans (and Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and a Jamaican). Already the most immaculate city in North America, Toronto was finally cleansed last weekend of the Jays' reputation as choke-niks. The Blow Jays of old—the clubs that could have used a Heimlich in three previous postseasons—would have folded like road maps in a series this snug. But....