The 1992 Toronto Blue Jays carried the burden of the organization’s past October failures with them. The Blue Jays had lost the ALCS in 1985, 1989 and 1991. In 1987, they’d collapsed in the final week of the regular season. Nothing short of at least reaching the World Series was good enough now.
Toronto went and got veteran help in the offseason. They signed 40-year-old Dave Winfield to DH and the move paid off. Winfield finished with a stat line of .377 on-base percentage/.491 slugging percentage. An even splashier move was the signing of 37-year-old starting pitcher Jack Morris. The ace of the Minnesota Twins staff that had ousted Toronto in the ‘91 ALCS and an eventual World Series hero, Morris’ reputation was the exact opposite of his new team—that of someone who always found a way to win.
Morris’ 1992 season was, in that regard, typical. He wasn’t dominant by any means, with a 4.04 ERA. But he was reliable, working 240 innings. And he found ways to get it done, posting 21 wins. Morris was one of those rare pitchers for whom the win totals were consistently better than his ERAs.
But it was the offense that carried the Blue Jays through the regular season and the best player was 24-year-old second baseman Roberto Alomar. Embarking on a Hall of Fame career, Alomar’s stat line was .405/.427. He was a key table-setter for power hitters that included—in addition to Winfield—Joe Carter, who hit 34 home runs and drove in 119 runs. Candy Maldonado popped 20 more homers. Toronto ended up second in the American League in runs scored.
The pitching staff was hindered by lack of depth. Tom Henke and Duane Ward were good relievers, but the bullpen was otherwise short on quality arms. Jimmy Key, the veteran lefty starter, ended up 13-13 with a 3.53 ERA. The best starter in the rotation was 25-year-old Juan Guzman, who won 16 games and posted a 2.64 ERA. But the search for pitching help would define Toronto’s in-season trade pursuits.
The Jays won 15 of their first 20 games and jumped out to an early lead in the AL East, but a slump at the end of May let the Baltimore Orioles move into more or less a dead heat. For the last part of May and almost all of June, the Blue Jays and Orioles stayed within a game of each other either way. Toronto’s 9-4 spurt as the first half wound down nudged their lead out to four games at the All-Star break.
Mediocrity settled over the Blue Jays in the late summer. They lost a series to Baltimore and lost two series to the Milwaukee Brewers, who were starting to make a move in the standings. The Brewers, prior to 1998, were an American League team. And prior to 1994, they were in the AL East. The realignment that would create a third division in each league and add wild-cards to the playoff was still a couple years off.
The late summer slowdown added urgency to the need for pitching and Toronto made the kind of big move you would expect from an organization in a win-or-bust year. They acquired 29-year-old David Cone. He would make eight starts for the Blue Jays down the stretch and deliver a 2.55 ERA in those games. It was essential stability that the Jays needed to hold off a hot challenger.
And the Brewers were coming on. I lived in Milwaukee during this season and still recall the sense of destiny that the city had, as their own great Hall of Famer, Robin Yount, closed in on his 3,000th hit and the team improbably overachieved. The Brewers were within striking distance on Labor Day, at 5 ½ games out and the Orioles were still nipping at Toronto’s heels, a game and a half back.
Baltimore faded, but Milwaukee didn’t. Toronto showed that their 1992 team was made of different stuff than previous years though, calmly playing consistent baseball in the face of the surge. In the first seven series after Labor Day, the Blue Jays won five and split the other two. It was enough to keep their lead at two games going into the final weekend of the regular season.
Friday night’s home game with Detroit was a microcosm of the season, as the bats made up for a shaky bullpen. Alomar, Maldonado and catcher Pat Borders all homered in building a 6-1 lead. Then they hung on for an 8-7 win. Milwaukee beat Oakland the same night, so the margin was still at two games with two to play.
Guzman took the ball on Saturday and was brilliant, going eight innings and allowing just one hit. Henke came on in the ninth to protect a 3-0 lead and managed to make it interesting—he allowed a run and had the bases loaded with two outs. Ward entered the game and got the final out, getting Dan Gladden to pop up. Toronto had its fourth AL East title in eight years.
This would finally be the year the Blue Jays’ achievements didn’t end with the AL East crown. After losing the ALCS opener at home against the Oakland A’s, the Jays won three straight games. The Game 4 win, rallying from 6-1 down against Oakland’s MVP closer Dennis Eckersley was the defining moment. Toronto returned home with a 3-2 series lead and then won Game 6 in blowout fashion. The World Series was finally going north of the border.
Toronto met up with the Atlanta Braves in the Series, and it was an intense, six-game affair. Ed Sprague, a mostly unknown reserve hit a stunning home run that pulled the Blue Jays back from the abyss in Game 2. Jays’ centerfielder Devon White made one of the most defensive plays in the modern history of the Fall Classic. The Jays again won three of the first five games, but this time they had go on the road to finish the job. Game 6 went extra innings. Winfield delivered the go-ahead hit and Toronto turned back one last Atlanta rally. At long last, the Blue Jays were champions.
And they wouldn’t have to wait long for another one. Toronto continued to stay aggressive in seeking veteran help and added future Hall of Famer Paul Molitor in the coming offseason, along with another experienced starter in Dave Stewart. The result—a repeat championship in 1993, capped off by Joe Carter’s walkoff home run.