'Round midnight, jazzy end to season

JOHN EISENBERG

October 26, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

ATLANTA -- The last pitch was thrown 50 minutes past a cool southern midnight. Otis Nixon dropped a bunt and 51,000 voices shrieked at the audacity. The ball rolled on the grass toward first base, with Nixon close behind, sprinting. From third base, the tying run ran for the plate.

The run, the game, the entire World Series -- it all came down to a 26-year-old middle reliever named Mike Timlin, a tall Texan who started the year on the disabled list and was in Triple-A as recently as June.

He jumped off the mound and ran for the ball. "That's the first play we work on in every spring training," he said later, shouting in the sickly sweet smell of a champagne celebration in the Blue Jays clubhouse. "I've done it a thousand times if I've done it once. It's a good thing I practiced, huh?"

But before he could grab the ball and throw it to first, delivering a sudden silence to the ballpark and the realization that finally there would be no more of those stomach-dropping turnabouts -- before Mike Timlin could do that, there was so much more to Game 6 of the World Series.

"Exhausting," Dave Winfield said when it was all over, after 11 innings and 247 minutes of every twinge mattering, a collection of moments to last a winter . . .

. . . Deion Sanders throwing out a runner at the plate and getting two more hits to finish the Series batting .533, with a claim on the MVP award had his team won . . .

. . . Jimmy Key coming out of the bullpen for the first time in six years, having pitched seven innings 72 hours earlier, because it just had to be . . .

. . . Bobby Cox losing with Charlie Leibrandt, a starter on in relief, because he didn't trust his closer, Jeff Reardon, who had already blown two games . . .

. . . Francisco Cabrera, again, almost . . . The Jays kept a 2-1 lead through seven innings. Cito Gaston approached Winfield before the Jays took the field in the eighth.

"Holding up?" Gaston asked his 41-year-old cleanup hitter.

"Fine," Winfield said. "Don't even think it."

. . . Winfield diving to catch a line drive moments later, leaving an enormous divot . . .

. . . The Jays bullpen working on a run of 15 scoreless innings into the ninth, just three outs to win a World Series . . .

But has there ever been a harder team to put away than the Braves? Jeff Blauser led off the ninth with a single against Tom Henke. A sacrifice and walk brought up -- no, too much -- Cabrera, whose famous pinch hit had finished off the Pirates.

He worked the count to 2-2, fouled off three pitches and sent a line drive to left, where Candy Maldonado miscalculated and ran in, then stopped in horror as he realized it was over his head . . .

. . . can an entire city just die at once? Maldonado bent his knees and jumped and . . . caught the ball.

Two outs now, Nixon at the plate. Henke quickly threw two strikes. The Jays in the dugout stood on the top step. Henke threw his best pitch, an 0-2 fastball . . .

. . . and the ball went flying to left, the tying run scoring, the din shattering, Maldonado's wild throw passing 20 feet over the catcher's head, onto the screen, the winning run moving to third.

"I thought we were gonna win there," Bobby Cox said.

But Henke got the third out and the game moved on, and suddenly there was Winfield up with two outs and runners on first and second in the top of the 11th. Leibrandt threw a changeup.

"I thought it was coming," Winfield said. "I just tried to stay loose and flick it with my wrists."

. . . The ball bouncing down the third-base line, rolling gently over the bullpen mounds, two runs, silence . . .

"I just don't know if a moment can be more sweet," he said. "I waited a long time for it."

Then -- believe it -- the Braves came back one last time, like the monster refusing to die in a bad horror movie. They scored a run to cut it to one, tying run on third, Nixon up against Timlin. And he bunted. "On his own," Cox said. "A good play."

Timlin started for first base, as they teach in spring training.

"Break off!" shouted first baseman Joe Carter. Meaning go get that sucker.

The pitcher ran to the ball, picked it up, turned and flipped it to Carter. Nixon was a half-step late.

"The grass slowed it down," Timlin said. "Otherwise, I don't know."

Then the Jays were tumbling onto each other in celebration in the middle of the night, Winfield in the center, champagne rolling down his cheeks, the Series a New York story after all . . .

"Did you see that game?" he said. "I mean, did you see it?"

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