Every day and never, that's how often this happens. Every day a boy hits a come-from-behind home run in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the World Series. And never, in 89 Fall Classics, has this actually come to pass. Of course it hasn't. Even in the big leagues, hitting a home run is called leaving the yard, and that is the only place where such a thing can happen: the backyard.
"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 Sky Dome, 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 clown 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 clown out there."