Jays catch unlikely lift of own on Sprague's 2-run HR in 9th wins it, 5-4

October 19, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- The World Series was made for light-hitting catchers. Just ask Rick Dempsey or Steve Yeager or even Damon Berryhill.

Last night, you could have asked Ed Sprague, whose pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning brought the Toronto Blue Jays from behind to defeat the Atlanta Braves, 5-4, and even the 89th World Series at a game apiece.

The Blue Jays were in danger of going back to Canada in a must-sweep-at-home situation. When stopper Jeff Reardon retired the first batter of the ninth inning, Toronto was left with a pair of inexperienced pinch hitters.

But rookie Derek Bell worked Reardon for a walk and Sprague pulled a line drive into the left-field bleachers to change the complexion of the entire series.

Looking for a local angle? Sprague is the son of Orioles scout Ed Sprague. Looking for an international angle? He became a hero to millions of Canadian baseball fans when he kept the club from going home down two games in the best- of-seven series.

To that point, Sprague's main claim to fame was the fact he was married to Olympian Kristen Babb-Sprague, who narrowly defeated a Canadian to win the gold medal in synchronized swimming. The guy only had one home run during the regular season.

"I was happy to get a chance to pinch hit in a situation like that," Sprague said. "Cito [Gaston] has given me some big at-bats this year. I struck out in the ninth inning against Dennis Eckersley in the playoffs because I was too anxious. I think that at-bat helped me tonight."

"It was pretty tough to have this happen in a World Series," said Reardon, who has saved more games than any pitcher in history. "I got out of the eighth and then I walk a guy in the ninth. I got the ball down. I usually get guys out with the high fastball, but it didn't happen tonight."

To that point, the player of the game was Braves right-hander John Smoltz, who seemed well on his way to his first World Series victory and his fifth career postseason win without a loss. He had taken a shutout into the fifth inning and a two-run lead into the eighth.

Smoltz worked 7 1/3 innings and gave up three runs (two earned) on eight hits. He struck out eight and seemed to be in position to send the Braves north with plenty of breathing room for the three games at SkyDome.

He outpitched Cone, who was run into the ground in a 4 1/3 -inning performance that again exposed his vulnerability to the stolen base. The Milwaukee Brewers proved it with an eight-steal performance in his regular-season debut for the Blue Jays. The Oakland A's proved it during the playoffs. The Braves confirmed it with a five-steal performance that tied a World Series record.

Cone gave up four runs on five hits and five walks, which left him looking like a loser until Sprague came through. The running game obviously had an effect, and the Blue Jays had no answer for it.

Braves manager Bobby Cox inserted Deion Sanders into the No. 2 spot in the lineup just to terrorize Cone, who gave up six stolen bases in one of his playoff starts against the A's. The results were almost immediate. The Braves stole four bases in the first five innings, two of which led directly to runs. Sanders stole two himself, the second forcing an error by catcher Pat Borders and setting up a go-ahead run in the fifth.

"Deion had a very good game," Cox said. "He got on base a couple of times and he hit the ball hard."

There was more to the Braves' running game than the stolen base. They also used the hit-and-run to perfection in the fourth, taking advantage of a walk and a single to put runners at first and third with no one out. Game 1 hero Damon Berryhill could not get the run home, but Mark Lemke poked a ground ball to the right side that skipped past a diving Roberto Alomar and brought home the second Atlanta run.

The Blue Jays looked like they were going to get a gift run in the top of that inning, but a disputed call by home-plate umpire Mike Reilly kept the shutout alive. Alomar tried to score from third on a pitch that bounced away from Berryhill, but he was out when Berryhill pounced on the ball and flipped it to Smoltz.

Or was he?

Alomar slid headfirst and appeared to have his hand on the plate well before Smoltz dropped the tag on his upper arm. The video replay showed as much, but the inning was over anyway.

"He was safe," Gaston said. "That's about all I have to say about it."

Reilly defended the call.

"In my judgment Smoltz made the tag and he [Alomar] was out," Reilly said. "That's really all there was to it."

The Blue Jays had to wait until the fifth to break through, and they had to get a second hit from Cone to do it. His two-out RBI single to center brought home the first run and kept the inning alive long enough for Devon White to tie the game with a run-scoring infield single.

Smoltz had been dominant up to that point. He even got the first two outs of that inning before Borders walked and Manuel Lee looped a broken-bat single to right.

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