Jaded, cynical, world-weary despisers of the beautiful were brought to their feet, shouting with delight, at the events in Municipal Stadium Wednesday night. The Toronto Blue Jays' 6-5 victory in 10 innings over the Indians was chess with human pieces, ballet with bruises, skill garnished with low cunning and a wonderful baseball game.
It's hard to excite pro ballplayers on a sweaty August night in the homely Mistake by the Lake. But the Blue Jays, as unlikely a team as ever had World Series dreams, were left brim full of exaltation and bright eyes by this affair.
"Way to go, Blue Jays," bellowed one voice, over and over, as the Jays grinned and chuckled and generally acted as though, if this was life on earth, then heaven could wait. Toronto's latest victory in the American League's labyrinthine Campaign in the East was the epitome of a pennant race in all its improbably fictive glory.
It was also, as the Blue Jays couldn't wait to point out, a victory that drew so many threads of their season into one fabric that even they were stunned by the completeness of the little sampler. You could hang this one on the wall and read it clearly: Toronto Is For Real.
An hour before the game, Lloyd Moseby, the Jays' leading hitter (.318) and captain of morale, was working on his slider.
"Strikeout No. 15," crowed center fielder Moseby, who's sure that only lack of opportunity stands between him and a career as a great relief pitcher. "This could be Moseby's 20th save."
One pitch later, Moseby had declared himself the winner and began cackling, "And the Blue Jays win the pennant!"
The Blue Jays, dwellers in the cellar in all six seasons of their existence, may indeed win the pennant. They're that good. They're that cocky. They've been that healthy and lucky. And the stars seem aligned in their behalf.
Cleveland is the first stop on a four-city, 14-game trip the Blue Jays view as being of roughly the same importance as the fate of the world.
"This is our pennant race right now," says catcher Buck Martinez.
In the next 17 days, Toronto plays 19 games against Boston, Baltimore and Detroit. Thereafter, thanks to the AL's "swing-team" schedule, Toronto doesn't play an East rival again after Sept. 4.
Not only do the Jays play the woeful West the last four weeks, but they play the Worst of the West, getting the chocolate-sundae teams: Seattle, Oakland, Minnesota, in six of the last seven series of the season.
"If we stay within a game or two of first place until we get into the West, there's a good chance we'll just pull away from the whole pack," says Martinez.
"While they're fighting each other, we'll be tip-toeing down the road like we have tennis shoes on," says Moseby. "No one will even hear us."
Before opening day, Moseby wrote a full-page pep-talk/open letter to his teammates, telling them that, after a tied-for-last-place season in 1982, he thought they could win the pennant. That letter's still tacked on the wall.
"For a manager, being in first place is just as bad as being in last place," says second-year Manager Bobby Cox. "Well, almost. The difference is that, in last place, you're always full of worry and anxiety while, in first place, you're full of worry and anxiety, but it's fun, too."
"In the past, if the Blue Jays got behind by a few runs early, it meant we might as well get dressed, go back to the hotel and watch, 'I Love Lucy,' " says Moseby. "Now, it's 'two in the sixth, one in the seventh, two in the ninth, it's over. We win.' . . . We've lost so much we know that part of the game. We're not goin' back in the hole again."
Kansas City Manager Dick Howser says, "Toronto will win the East."
Bottom of the ninth. Toronto ahead, 4-2. The scoreboard shows Milwaukee sweeping a doubleheader. Detroit's winning, too. Baltimore and New York are both in extra innings. Oh, yes, it's a pennant race.
Luis Leal has been strong for eight innings, allaying fears that his recent slump--no wins since July 14--might be an ill omen. Dave Steib (13-10), Jim Clancy (13-7) and Leal (10-10) give Toronto the most dependable front line pitching in the East. What's behind them, Jim Gott (6-10) and Doyle Alexander (0-7), is shaky, so Leal is vital.
A hit and walk open the Indian ninth and Leal leaves. Cox, a devotee of percentages, has started waving to his bullpen.
Randy Moffitt gets Andy Thornton on a liner to left. Cox calls for lefty Dave Geisel; Moffitt carried the worrisome pen early, but now it's Geisel. Mike Hargrove pops up. One out to go.
Cox calls for his fourth pitcher in four batters, Joey McLaughlin, a righty who's blown another pitcher's lead six times this year then gotten the win himself.
And he does it again.
Gorman Thomas beats out a chop to deep short; third baseman Garth Iorg stores away the memory of that tantalizing grounder and eventually uses it as inspiration to win the game. But, for the moment, the bases are loaded. Julio Franco singles to center and Toronto's lead has been squandered.
The angry McLaughlin pops up Chris Bando. Extra innings.
With two out and a man on second in the Blue Jay 10th, Moseby comes up and he's mighty mad. Early, pitcher Rick Sutcliffe, who once demolished the office of Dodgers Manager Tommy Lasorda (with Lasorda in it), drilled Moseby with a fast ball in the shoulder. In Moseby's next at bat, Sutcliffe threw the first pitch over his head. There were words, Sutcliffe, remarkably, being the aggressor. Umpires shouldered between them.
"The man showed me no class. . . showed me no respect," said Moseby. "I didn't want to fight him. What if I got hurt in a pileup? How dumb would that be? I figured it would put a worse hurtin' on him if I cost him the game. Man, it was meant to be."
Sutcliffe begs his manager to let him pitch to Moseby, even though a lefty is warm. Sutcliffe, after long debate, stays. Moseby triples to deep center. Game-winning RBI: Moseby. Losing pitcher: Sutcliffe.
"Before long," says Toronto veteran Dave Collins, "Lloyd Moseby will be in a league by himself."
Every Blue Jay took note that, on Tuesday, in his final at bat with a 21-game hitting streak on the line, Moseby took a full-count pitch for a walk; Moseby, after this act of unselfishness, then scored the winning run.
On this symbolic night, Willie Upshaw singled home Moseby for a 6-4 lead. Moseby and Upshaw are to Toronto what Cecil Cooper and Robin Yount are to Milwaukee, what Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray are to Baltimore.
"Upshaw might be the best player in the league right now," says Martinez of the first baseman who has 19 homers, 73 RBI.
In the Cleveland 10th, McLaughlin gets two easy outs, then walks two men. Cox, clenching his fist to his thigh, calls for Roy Lee Jackson, emptying his bullpen. Jackson is, if possible, worse. Thornton singles to load the bases and Jackson walks home a run.
Up steps Thomas, who homered just an hour ago.
Out of the blue, third baseman Iorg has an inspiration. He trots toward Griffin and yells, "If he hits another grounder in the hole, like the one he beat out last time, it's all yours. I'll cover third."
This is novel, hunch stuff.
Three pitches later, Iorg's premonition comes true. Thomas hits a similar grounder. Griffin has no play at first. The tying run is crossing the plate. The crowd is in full roar when, suddenly, Griffin throws to third.
Thornton, in a storm of dust, is out by inches. End of game.
"We can't keep going to the well like this," says a shaken McLaughlin. "The odds start going against you."
Iorg sits by his locker, almost speechless with pleasure. Last year, his brother Dane starred in the Series for St. Louis.
"That was neat," murmurs Iorg, in the full grip of a pennant race's power. "It was so amazing, so exciting, to see it work out just that way." Next: the New York Yankees