In place of on-field baseball action postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Globe and Mail brings you a computer-simulated tournament involving four of the greatest Canadian teams, using the statistics-based software of the sports-game company Strat-O-Matic. The first-round best-of-seven-game series pits the 1985 Blue Jays against their World Series-winning counterparts from 1993, while on the other side of the bracket, the 1981 Expos take on the 1994 Montreal squad. This is Game No. 4 of the all-Jays series.
A bloop, a bunt and a high-bouncer. That’s how the high-powered Blue Jays of 1993 defeated their 1985 Toronto rivals in a dramatic, come-from-behind victory to sweep the series in four straight games and send themselves into the final for the mythical Macdonald-Cartier Cup. At the centre of the small-ball shenanigans was a little-used rookie whose ding-free bat was just out of its wrapper.
Heading into the bottom of the eighth and facing ’85 reliever Tom Henke, the ’93 Jays were down 4-3. With one out, an excuse-me swing from Ed Sprague resulted in a flare single into short left field. Pinch-runner Turner Ward replaced Sprague at first base.
Then a stranger appeared from the third-base dugout, pinch-hitting for catcher Pat Borders. The tobacco-chewing backstop had hurt his left wrist on a foul tip in the top of the inning.
The sub was Willie Canate, a banjo hitter who had compiled a .213 batting average in 38 regular-season games. Attempting to bunt, he fouled off the first two pitches from Henke. With two strikes, Canate went ahead and placed a perfect bunt down the third-base line. Rance Mulliniks had no chance to throw out the fleet-footed Canate but tried anyway. His errant throw allowed Canate and Ward to advance to second and third base, respectively.
With first base open, 1985 manager Bobby Cox bizarrely elected to pitch to the next batter, Rickey Henderson. The surefire future Hall of Famer slapped a high-bouncing grounder into left field, plating both base-runners and giving his team a lead it did not relinquish. Closer Duane Ward mowed down Tony Fernandez, Damaso Garcia and Cliff Johnson in the top of the ninth to preserve the comeback and complete a sweep unofficially sponsored by Home Hardware.
It was a star-studded crowd at the closed-lidded SkyDome, with Charlie Sheen, Anne Murray and the singer Meat Loaf among the A-listers in attendance. Before the game, an empty taxi arrived at 1 Blue Jays Way and baseball commissioner Bud Selig got out of it.
Postgame, ’93 skipper Cito Gaston, a cool customer, told the media the mood in the dugout was calm and confident going into the pivotal inning.
“I try to be the manager I wanted to play for," the former big-leaguer said. "I played for Preston Gomez, and he taught me, if you panic, your team’s going to panic. So try not to panic. It’s not the end of the world, you’re going to play another one tomorrow.”
Easy for Gaston to say. His team was up 3-0 in games heading into the fourth (and, as it turns out, final) contest of the series. There are no more tomorrows for the Jays of 1985.
As for the 1993 Jays, they’ll await the winner of the series between the 1981 Expos and the 1994 Expos. The latter team is currently up two games to one.
On Friday, The Globe will run a game report and boxscore of Game No. 4 of the Montreal side of our computer-simulated tournament. Scheduled starting pitchers are Scott Sanderson for the 1981 Expos and Butch Henry for the Expos of ’94, who are currently up two games to one. The winner of the best-of-seven series will face the the 1993 Blue Jays in a best-of-seven series for the Macdonald-Cartier Cup.