The Repeat Drive Of The 1993 Toronto Blue Jays

After eight years of contention, including three playoff teams, the city of Toronto finally tasted the World Series in 1992 and they won it. The 1993 Toronto Blue Jays did what no team had accomplished in fifteen years when they won a second consecutive World Series, and one of major league baseball’s most dramatic moments.

The Blue Jays said goodbye to veteran Dave Winfield, a big part of the ’92 championship, but they went on the free agent market and replaced him with another vet who was even better. Paul Molitor was at the end of a Hall of Fame career. Adding him not only put another bat in a stacked lineup, but it fatally weakened the Milwaukee Brewers (an American League team prior to 1998), who had chased Toronto to the final weekend of the regular season in 1992.

Molitor posted a stat line of .402 on-base percentage/.509 slugging percentage. He batted .322 ,hit 22 homers and drove in 111 runs. It was good enough to put him second in the American League MVP voting.

Another future Hall of Famer, this one closer to the beginning of his career, was second baseman Roberto Alomar, with his .408/.462 stat line and 55 stolen bases. Devon White in center provided speed, with 34 stolen bases. Joe Carter, the rightfielder, added muscle with 33 home runs and 121 RBI. Tony Fernandez, the veteran shortstop, who was the defining link between this team and the first contending Blue Jays club in 1984, finished with a stat line of .361/.442.

But none of these players—not the ones destined for Cooperstown nor anyone else—was the best player in Toronto’s 1993 lineup. That honor belonged to 24-year-old first baseman John Olerud. With his .473/.599 stat line, his 24 homers and 107 ribbies, with his .363 average that won the batting title, with his 158 games played…with all that, it is frankly staggering that Olerud did not receive a single MVP vote.

Olerud did finish third in the final voting, but he should have been ahead of Molitor and at least in the conversation with Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas, a unanimous winner. In either case, Olerud was the lynchpin of an offense that finished second in the American League in runs scored.

Toronto had strengthened their 1992 pitching staff with the addition of a championship-proven free agent in Jack Morris. They followed the same path in 1993 and signed Dave Stewart, the ace of the staff for the great Oakland A’s teams of the previous five years. These moves, at least in the regular season, did not work out. Morris’ 6.19 ERA indicated his career was effectively over. Stewart’s ERA was 4.44 in 26 starts.

But here too, the Blue Jays had other options. The best of them was Juan Guzman, a young arm who made 33 starts, won 14 games and finished with a 3.99 ERA. Pat Hentgen went 19-9 with a 3.87 ERA. Todd Stottlemyre, another young arm, was more pedestrian with 11 wins and 4.84 ERA, but his 28 starts at least stabilized the rotation.

Those ERAs, even for Guzman and Hentgen, are high for a championship team, but offense in general was up around baseball. The average ERA for a staff hopped from 3.94 for 4.32. And Toronto had a good bullpen behind the rotation.

That pen was anchored by Duane Ward, the closer who saved 45 games with a 2.13 ERA. Danny Cox, a starter on pennant-winning teams in St. Louis in the 1980s, shifted to relief work in Toronto and posted a 3.12 ERA. Mark Eichorn’s ERA was 2.72. Tony Castillo clocked in 3.38. The only reliever whose ERA was on the high side was young Mike Timlin and his 4.69.

The work of the bullpen and the higher ERAs around the league are general are why Toronto pitching was still solid in 1993, coming in at fifth in the American League.

1993 was the last year of a baseball alignment that had held for 25 years. Each league was split into just two divisions, an East and a West, and only the first-place team advanced to the postseason. The current three-division format would be ushered in for 1994, but for now there was no Central Division and no wild-card.

That meant the AL East not only included Toronto, Boston, New York and Baltimore (Tampa Bay did not exist yet), but also Milwaukee, Cleveland and Detroit. The Brewers and Orioles had been the Jays’ primary competitors in 1992. The Red Sox had been the foil for the late 1980s and the first couple years of the 1990s. The Tigers could be counted on to at least lurk. The Yankees had been in a rare rebuilding mode the last four years. The Indians had not been relevant for a generation.

Toronto split six early games with eventual AL West champion Chicago. But they went on to lose six of nine, a stretch that included getting swept at home by Detroit. The Blue Jays bounced back by going to New York and Boston and grabbing four wins in six games, then sweeping lowly Minnesota. By Memorial Day, Toronto’s record was 28-22. They were three games back of frontrunning Detroit, with New York and Boston also in the mix.

The Blue Jays continued to struggle head-to-head against the Tigers, losing three of four and falling as many as four games off the pace. But they heated up with a 12-4 stretch, steadily chewing up other AL East teams. The Jays moved into first place by as many as two games. But the last stretch of games before the All-Star break against AL West competition was brutal—a 1-9 record. They still held their lead in the division, but it was a slim half-game over Detroit.

It was a packed AL East race. A revived New York, managed by Buck Showalter, were only a game back. Baltimore was a 1 ½ off the pace and Boston was three back. There were a lot of contenders to overthrow the king.

One thing Detroit did not have was pitching and as is often the case, the late summer is cruel to teams with such shortcomings. The Blue Jays took three of four from the Tigers in late July. Toronto took two of three from Boston, who lacked rotation depth behind Roger Clemens. Both the Red Sox and Tigers faded from the race.

The Blue Jays were going all-in to win this repeat championship and it showed when they acquired another future Hall of Famer, left fielder Rickey Henderson at the July 31 trade deadline. Deadline moves, while common, didn’t fly nearly as freely in 1993 as they do today. The Henderson acquisition was a big deal. And over the final two months of the season, he took over the leadoff spot, put up a .356 OBP and stole 22 bases.

Toronto seemed to be gaining control, but a late August/early September trip to the west coast resulted in a 4-7 mark. By Labor Day, New York had pulled even. Baltimore was 2 ½ back. The race was on in the stretch drive.

There were two key series to focus on. The final two weekends of the regular season would feature a three-game set at home with New York and four games in Baltimore. The next 2 ½ weeks was about positioning for those head-to-head battles.

The Blue Jays went 10-4 over that stretch. The Yanks and Orioles both stumbled. When New York came to Toronto, the Blue Jays had a 5 ½ game lead. Only a complete collapse could do them in.

But anyone in Toronto who had lived through 1987, which had seen just such a collapse in the final week, was not going to take anything for granted.

Henderson showed why the Blue Jays added him in Friday night’s opener, with two hits and scoring three runs. Devon White had a four-hit night. Guzman pitched well and Toronto won 7-3. Henderson came back on Saturday afternoon with two hits, two runs and the Jays rode young lefthander Al Leiter to a 3-1 win.

They had a clinched at least a tie and a one-game playoff. Sunday offered a chance to wrap it up in front of the home fans, but the Blue Jays lost 7-3. The champagne would travel with them to Milwaukee.

Molitor, returning to the place he had spent his entire major league career prior to ’93, hit an early home run. Hentgen tossed 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball. The bullpen handled the rest. When Ward induced a double-play grounder in the ninth, the party could start. Toronto was the AL East champ for the fifth time in eight years.

Of course the AL East flag wasn’t what the Blue Jays were about by this stage of their franchise development. Their veteran acquisitions paid off big-time in the postseason. In the American League Championship Series, Toronto was the team that didn’t make big mistakes, while Chicago often let opportunities slide. Stewart was brilliant, further validating his big-game reputation and won two games. The Blue Jays took home the pennant in six.

Most of baseball anticipated a Toronto-Atlanta rematch in the World Series, but the Philadelphia Phillies upset the Braves in the NLCS. The World Series would be a wild ride and offered more opportunities for the Blue Jays to demonstrate the value of experience. They rallied in Game 4 and won a wild 15-14 game that gave them a 3-1 series lead. When the Phils won Game 5 and took a lead into the ninth inning of Game 6, it looked like this Series was going to get very interesting.

But Toronto put together one last rally behind the vets. Henderson and Molitor got on base, putting the tying and winning runs aboard. Carter came to the plate with one out. In an epic moment, he launched a three-run jack that sent the home crowd into a frenzy. For just the second time in history, along with 1960, the World Series ended on a walkoff home run.

Toronto was the first team to win consecutive World Series titles since the Yankees in 1978. They joined the Cincinnati Reds (1975-76) and the Oakland A’s (1972-74) as the only team outside of the Yanks to win repeat crowns since 1930. These Blue Jays were officially a dynasty.