The Oakland A’s were on a mission of redemption in 1989, trying to return to the World Series and atone for their 1988 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Toronto Blue Jays had survived a tough AL East fight against the Baltimore Orioles. The A’s were a solid favorite and that’s how the 1989 ALCS played out—the Blue Jays had their share of moments, and led at some point in most games, but Oakland had too much firepower and they took the pennant in five games.
You can read more about the paths each team took to get the ALCS, and about the key players that defined the season for each team, at the links below. This post will focus on the games of the 1989 ALCS itself.
Both teams had their aces ready for Game 1 in Oakland, as Dave Stewart went for the A’s and Dave Stieb took the ball for the Blue Jays. It was Toronto who struck first, in the top of the second. George Bell and Tony Fernandez singled, setting up runners on the corners. Fernandez stole second. Ernie Whitt picked up one run with a sac fly and Nelson Liriano delivered a two-out base hit for a 2-0 lead.
When Oakland met the Boston Red Sox in the 1988 ALCS, the A’s consistently answered rallies immediately, and they picked up where they left off a year later. Dave Henderson hit a leadoff home run in the bottom of the second. The score stayed 2-1 until the top of the fourth, when Whitt homered for Toronto.
The A’s chipped back in the fifth, when Carney Lansford singled, stole second with two outs and scored when big Dave Parker singled the other way to left field.
One inning later, Mark McGwire hit a leadoff home run and it was tied 3-3. Tony Phillips followed by beating out a bunt and Stieb was removed for reliever Jim Acker, a somewhat curious quick hook given Stieb’s status as the ace.
A soft rally ensured. An infield hit and hit batsman loaded the bases. Lansford hit a groundball to short and it looked like the Jays might get the double play they needed to keep the game 3-3. Instead, Liriano threw it away off the turn, two runs came in and the score was 5-3.
Stewart locked in with the lead and retired the side in both the seventh and eighth, setting up closer Dennis Eckersley to do the same in the ninth. The A’s added two insurance runs in the eighth for good measure and took the opener 7-3.
The teams came back right away the following afternoon for a noon start local time. Toronto went to Todd Stottlemyre to try and pick up a road win, and while Oakland sent Mike Moore to the mound. And once again, it was the Blue Jays who struck first.
In the top of the third, Lloyd Moseby singled with one out. Mookie Wilson hit a ground ball to first base—not unlike the one he’d hit at Bill Buckner in the iconic moment of the 1986 World Series. This time he got credit for an infield hit, but also got the error, from McGwire. It sent Moseby to third where a ground ball out could pick up the game’s first run.
Rickey Henderson was the leadoff hitter for Oakland and began putting his imprint on this series in the fourth. He walked, stole both second and third and scored on a Lansford single. McGwire then doubled to bring home Lansford for a 2-1 lead. In the sixth, Parker homered. After McGwire singled, Stottlemyre was pulled for Acker. A ground rule double by Dave Henderson, a sac fly from Ron Hassey and a base hit from Tony Phillips stretched the Oakland lead to 5-1.
The A’s got insurance in the seventh in the ultimate manufactured rally. Rickey Henderson walked and stole second. Lansford walked, and Henderson stole third. Lansford stole second, and the errant throw brought Henderson in.
The extra run gave Oakland some breathing room when the Blue Jays rallied in the top of the eighth. Rick Honeycutt had come on from Moore, but allowed a single and two walks to load the bases with none out. Eckersley came on. Fred McGriff hit an RBI and the tying run was at the plate. But George Bell hit into a double play, which brought in a run through the backdoor, but killed the rally. Oakland won 6-3.
Jimmy Key was a reliable lefty for Toronto and on Friday night, his team’s season was essentially in his hands when he took the mound to face Storm Davis in Game 3 at the Toronto Skydome. It looked like the A’s would put this game and series to bed early.
Rickey Henderson and Lansford each walked to start the game, Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire each hit sac flies and it was 1-0. In the third, Rickey Henderson doubled, stole third and scored on a Lansford single. In the fourth, Parker homered and it was 3-0.
In the bottom of the fourth, Toronto answered. Moseby drew a leadoff walk, followed by a Wilson infield hit and McGriff single to load the bases. Bell picked up the team’s first run with a sac fly and then Fernandez cleared the bases with a double that tied the game 3-3. Whitt tacked on an RBI single and for the third straight game, Toronto had a lead.
This time, the Blue Jays made it stand up. They scored three more runs in the seventh, again with a Fernandez double being important, this time to start the inning. Acker and closer Tom Henke combined to close the door and with the 7-3 win this was a series again when the teams returned to the field early Saturday afternoon.
Two veterans, Bob Welch for Oakland and Mike Flanagan for Toronto were on the mound. Each had been a key World Series performer in their younger days, Welch for the Dodgers and Flanagan for the Orioles.
Oakland continued the pattern of the road team scoring first in each game. Walt Weiss doubled with one out in the third, then swiped third base. Rickey Henderson, having already shown his speed, now showed his power He homered to dead center. Canseco hit a solo blast, and it was 3-0.
Toronto got a run back in the fourth when Fernandez singled, stole second, took third on an infield hit and scored on a groundball out. But Oakland hit right back in the top of the fifth. With a man aboard, Rickey Henderson homered again. The Blue Jays got a run back in the sixth, the teams traded solo home runs in the seventh, and it looked like Oakland’s 6-3 lead was comfortable in the bottom of the eighth.
An infield hit, walk and wild pitch from Honeycutt gave Toronto first and third with one out. Eckersley was summoned. Wilson hit a groundout that scored a run and McGriff singled to cut the lead to 6-5. Bell had a chance to tie or take the lead and he got a hold of one. But it ended up a deep fly to center, Eckersley slammed the door in the ninth and Oakland’s 6-5 win gave them firm command of this series.
Stewart and Stieb returned to the mound on a late Sunday afternoon in Toronto. Rickey Henderson wasted no time in putting pressure on Toronto, as he drew a walk to start the game, stole second and scored on a Canseco single. In third, Rickey ripped an RBI triple. Stieb got settled in after that, but Stewart gave no ground and the score was still 2-0 in the seventh.
Dave Henderson drew a walk in the seventh, followed by singles from McGwire and Terry Steinbach. Acker was called on to keep Toronto in the game, but a sac fly and squeeze play pushed over a key run to make it 4-zip.
The run was needed, because the Blue Jays didn’t roll over. Moseby homered in the eighth. Bell homered to start the ninth to make it 4-2, and Eckersley came on for Stewart. Fernandez singled and stole second. A groundout and sac fly scored the run, but now the Jays were down to their last out. Eckersley closed the door one more time and with the 4-3 win, Oakland had back-to-back American League pennants.
There were several good individual performances from the A’s. Lansford went 5-for-11 and drew two walks. Stewart went eight innings in each of his two winning starts. Eckersley saved three games, pitching 5.2 innings and only giving up one run.
But no one dominated this series like Rickey Henderson. He went 6-for-15, drew seven walks, homered twice and stole eight bases in five games. He was a deserved selection as the 1989 ALCS MVP.
Oakland went on to a Bay Area World Series against the San Francisco Giants. It was a series that has been marred by history because of an earthquake that rocked the region just prior to Game 3 and caused a ten-day interruption of play. It put a damper on the celebration when the A’s ultimately got the vindication they were after.
Neither the A’s nor Jays were going anywhere anytime soon. Oakland won another pennant in 1990. Toronto returned to the ALCS in 1991, and these same two teams played each in this round in 1992, with the Blue Jays getting the upper hand. But in 1989, no one was better than the Oakland A’s.