Hands-off Borders keeps Jays in touch with title

Ken Rosenthal

October 09, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

TORONTO -- Once upon a time, Little League managers taught catchers to chase down every wild pitch. After last night, they'll be hollering, "Don't touch!"

Such was the moral of Toronto's 3-1 victory over Oakland, victory that evened the American League Championship Series at one game apiece.

Blue Jays catcher Pat Borders allowed a wild pitch to roll into hiown dugout, and lo and behold, the game was never the same.

Indeed, the entire momentum of the series might have shifted on this one bizarre play, which at first glance appeared to be a simple case of the Blue Jays screwing up again.

But, because Borders' ultimate reaction to the ball was that of boy getting his hand slapped away from a cookie jar, star-crossed Toronto got a rare postseason break.

It happened in the fifth inning of a scoreless game, with MikBordick on first, Willie Wilson on second and No. 9 hitter Walt Weiss batting with one out.

A's manager Tony La Russa ordered a double steal, and Wilsoappeared to score easily on David Cone's wild pitch after taking third base on the front end.

But moments later, plate umpire Larry Young ordered Wilson back to third and Bordick back to second after Jays manager Cito Gaston reminded him of a rule that will live in infamy.

Ah yes, the dreaded 7.05 (h).

This one is so obscure, Young didn't recall it immediately, and Borders wasn't sure about it himself. But to a man, the Jays in the dugout were screaming at the sliding Borders to let the ball go.

The rule states that one base shall be awarded when a wild pitcor passed ball goes past the catcher and directly into the dugout. Two bases are awarded only if the catcher kicks or deflects the ball out of play.

Major-league owners might want to take a break from plottinlockout strategy in order to demand the rules committee fix 7.05 (h).

Just let the umpires exercise their discretion, since they can'remember the rule anyway. Unless, of course, baseball is content to keep producing postseason heroes like Borders.

The problem with the rule is that it forces the runners to return to their positions at the time of the pitch. Wilson and Bordick, of course, already had advanced on the double steal.

In the end, that's how the play was scored. Officially, Cone neveeven threw a wild pitch.

The sequence was the baseball equivalent of a fumble on the 1-yard line ruled dead.

Naturally, Cone struck out Weiss and then Rickey Henderson to escape the jam. Naturally, Kelly Gruber hit a two-run homer in the bottom half, providing Toronto with its margin of victory.

Cone took a four-hit shutout into the ninth inning of a game thBlue Jays desperately needed to win, but the discussion afterward kept coming back to the wild pitch that wasn't.

"It gave them a second life, it took a little bit out of us," Wilsosaid. "But it was still 0-0. It's not like we went out there and said, 'They're going to beat us now.' "

Still, Cone said he felt a tremendous sense of reprieve, and ishowed in the way he battled back from a 3-1 count to freeze Weiss with a vicious slider on the outside corner.

The strikeout ended any chance of an RBI groundout or sacrificfly. Henderson looked just as overmatched on the final out, flailing at a slider down and away for strike three.

There's no denying Cone's brilliance, but there's also no denyinthe Jays were lucky -- lucky they were playing on artificial turf, and lucky the wild pitch bounced the right way.

For all anyone knows, the ball might have remained in play on natural grass. And for all anyone knows, Borders might have reacted differently if the play was in front of the A's dugout.

Borders, however, said he couldn't hear his teammates above the din of the crowd. He simply followed his instincts, knowing he had nothing to lose with Wilson about to score.

"I'm not that sharp to think that fast under pressure," Borders said. "I glanced back at him, and he was rounding third. At the last second, I decided to just let it go.

"We've had it happen to us several times before," he added. "That's the only reason I had any idea the run wouldn't score."

La Russa protested after Young ordered Wilson back to thirdbut dropped the argument when the umpires informed him that Borders never deflected the ball.

From the dugout, Wilson kept shouting, "Why?" unaware of what had taken place. But afterward, he praised the umpires for making the right call and Borders for making the astute play.

He did nothing, and he's a hero.

All hail, rule 7.05 (h).

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