Improbable catch, homer have Jays flying high White, Gruber turn game around

October 21, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Combined, they are hitting .091. But without Devon (1-for-13) White and Kelly (1-for-9) Gruber, the Toronto Blue Jays would be a game behind, not ahead, in the World Series.

White turned Game 3 around in the fourth inning with a catch that will go down as one of the best defensive plays in World Series history.

And Gruber, mired in the longest postseason slump in history, delivered a dramatic, game-tying home run in the eighth inning, moments after the Atlanta Braves had pushed across a run to take a 2-1 lead.

It remained for Candy Maldonado to end a game of baseball checkers between Atlanta manager Bobby Cox and his Toronto counterpart, Cito Gaston, but it was White and Gruber who put the Blue Jays in position to win.

"I don't rate catches, but that's my best because it came in the World Series," said White. With runners on first and second and nobody out, White took a certain extra-base hit away from David Justice with a leaping, full-speed catch against the center-field fence.

No less an authority than Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, who never played in a World Series but is in his sixth decade of watching, gave White's catch a five-star rating. "That was a great play -- right up there with Willie Mays, Duke Snider, all of them," said Banks, a post-game clubhouse visitor.

When the ball left Justice's bat, there appeared no chance that White would make a play. From the Atlanta dugout, Cox said he thought "there was no way he could get it," and from first base, the thought obviously never entered Terry Pendleton's mind.

When White leaped against the fence to make the catch, Deion Sanders, who was on second base, stopped -- and when he did, Pendleton passed him and was automatically out on the play. White wasn't even thinking about Pendleton.

"I never thought I didn't have a chance," said White. "My job is to make that play and get the ball back into the infield fast enough to keep Sanders from scoring. On a ball like that, if he tags up, he might try to score."

Instead of taking the early lead and positioning themselves for a big inning, the Braves took a zero on the chin.

"When I first hit it, I thought it had a chance to go out," said Justice. "Devon made an incredible play on that ball.

"We needed the ball to kick off his glove on that play," said Justice. "I wish we could've had some luck on that play -- but he is a great defensive player."

When Gruber strode to home plate to lead off the eighth inning, he was carrying the baggage of an 0-for-23 slump, the longest in postseason history. Those kind of things tend to get a lot of attention.

But a hanging 3-and-2 changeup put Gruber on a different wave length.

"I was thinking about a lot of things [as he ran the bases]," said Gruber.

"I tend to understand a lot of things build, get blown out of proportion and people make things a big deal [during postseason play]," he said. "I was asked how I felt being here [in the World Series], about the situation and I said I felt great. Then I was asked if I felt great being 0-for-22 [going into the game].

"I'm happy to be here in this World Series, happy to be a part of it. It's the chance of a lifetime. I just tried to keep a good attitude through it all, even though it was tough.

"What made it tough was the fact that I felt like I was seeing the ball and swinging the bat good," said Gruber. "I feel like I've had only one real bad at-bat, when I struck out on a pitch in the dirt [in Game 2 Sunday night in Atlanta]. It [the home run] took a load off my mind."

When he came into the dugout, Gruber pointed into the stands.

"I pointed to my mother," he said. "I was looking for my wife, but I couldn't find her. And I pointed to Anne Murray [the Canadian singer who sang her country's national anthem before the game].

"And that was all," said Gruber, who may have slugged his way out of the most difficult slump of his career.

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