Friday, October 5, 2012

1993 World Series: Walking Off on Wild Thing

The Teams
American League: Toronto Blue Jays (95-67) - Second World Series (Won in 1992)
National League: Philadelphia Phillies (97-65) - Fifth World Series (Won in 1980)

What Happened
After winning the World Series in 1992, the Toronto Blue Jays did the unthinkable: they added two future Hall of Famers to their already potent lineup. After adding Paul Molitor in the offseason and Rickey Henderson during a midseason trade, the Blue Jays surprised no one by getting back to the World Series.

What was surprising was their opponents. While both the Braves and Giants won more than 100 games in the National League in 1993, it was the Phillies who ended up in the World Series. Center fielder Lenny Dykstra led the offense with 143 runs scored - the most in the National League since 1932 - and led the team in tobacco stains, though it was a tough battle. Between the wads of tobacco, then endless mullets, and the surprising number of potbellies, the Phillies looked more like an over-40 slowpitch softball team than a National League pennant winner.

Fittingly, then, the 1993 series had a lot of games with scores that looked like softball scores. The first two games - an 8-5 Toronto win followed by a 6-4 Philadelphia triumph - were nothing compared to the manic games that took place in Philadelphia. Toronto won Game 3, scoring 10 runs despite having AL batting champ John Olerud on the bench because of the lack of a DH in NL parks.

And then came Game 4. Crazy, maniacal Game 4. With a steady drizzle falling throughout the night, the pitchers had no shot. Both starters were gone by the third, which ended with Toronto ahead 7-6. The Phillies then dominated the middle innings, taking a 14-9 lead into the eighth inning. Toronto started to chip away, in the eighth, with Molitor driving in a run to make it 14-10. Then, Phildelphia brought in closer Mitch Williams. Nicknamed "Wild Thing" in honor the character from Major League - and because of his off-balance follow-through and inconsistent inability to find the strike zone - Williams drove Phillie fans crazy all season long, making all 43 of his saves gut-wrenching. On this night, he was asked to get five outs. He got two, but not before the Blue Jays scored five more runs to take a 15-14 lead. After the chaotic top of the 8th, the teams surprisingly went scoreless there rest of the way, but Toronto's 15-14 victory still stands as the highest-scoring World Series game of all time.

With the Phillies facing elimination and their bullpen completely taxed, Curt Schilling took matters into his own hands, reminding America what good pitching looked like by shutting out the Blue Jays on five hits. Still, the Blue Jays weren't worried, as they were heading back to Toronto needing just one win to wrap up their second straight title.

It's possible that they weren't worried even after the Phillies scored five runs in the top of the seventh of Game 6, either. Because while the Phillies were ahead, they were also in a save situation, and that meant the Wild Thing was coming into the game. I can't be certain, but this might have been the first save situation in World Series history where the team with the lead was more worried than the trailing team.

Rickey Henderson, the man who made an art form out of the walk, drew the least surprising leadoff walk ever to open the bottom of the ninth. Williams fell off the mound on the fourth pitch, and as Henderson jogged to first, Schilling hid his head in a towel on the Philadelphia bench, while Joe Carter clapped his hands on the Toronto one. It's like they both knew. A flyout, and then Molitor lined a single to center. The two Hall of Famers, then, had just made their acquisitions worthwhile. They were on base when Carter came to the plate. He took a couple of pitches that were way out of the zone, fouled off a couple other pitches, waited. Then he got one that broke inside and down, but not far enough in or far enough down. He swung, pulling it on a line to deep left. Normally, a right handed batter hitting a ball like that ends up pulling it violently foul, but not this time. This time, Carter's line drive stayed just straight enough, staying just high enough.

After throwing the pitch, Williams almost immediately started walking off the mound toward his dugout. He knew. As he approached the steps, he took one last look over his shoulder, but nothing had changed. He was off the field before Carter got to second base, in the clubhouse before Carter had gotten to third. He was never seen again in a Philadelphia uniform.

As Carter's hit cleared the wall, he started bouncing up and down. Carter bounced/leaped/jogged around the bases, waiving his arms like he needed the momentum to get all the way there. He jumped on home plate and was carried off on his teammates' shoulders, the man of the hour.  It was only the second time a World Series had ended on a home run, but the first time the hitting team was trailing at the time.

Paul Molitor played in five postseason series in his career. His batting average in the first four, in order: .250, .316, .355, .391. Not bad, but nothing compared to what he did in the 1993 series, when he batted .500 with 8 runs batted in, and half of his 12 hits were extra-base hits. He even played two flawless games at third base after not having played the position in three years. An investment worth every penny.

(Home team shaded; winners in Bold)

Philadelphia56 31426
Toronto 84101508

The List
I'm ranking all the World Series, from worst to best. Here are the ones I've done so far:

18. 1993 - Toronto (A) def. Philadelphia (N) 4-2
19. 1956 - New York (A) def. Brooklyn (N) 4-3
Numbers 20-29
Numbers 30-39
Numbers 40-49
Numbers 50-59
Numbers 60-69
Numbers 70-79
Numbers 80-89
Numbers 90-99
Numbers 100-107

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