Or, part one of a look at the worst year in Toronto’s best decade, through the lens of one historic game. All game records noted are for the searchable era, 1916-present; season marks are since 1901.
The first team with eight home runs in a game were the 1939 Yankees. That record was equaled six times in the next four decades (with one individual 4-HR effort), but it wasn’t topped until the fluke year of 1987, when homers flew as never before. A new season mark for team HRs allowed was established that year, along with four of the top five and eight of the top 15 team totals.
On Monday, September 14, 1987, first-place Toronto hosted the foundering Orioles at Exhibition Stadium. This series opener kicked off the last 20 games of the stretch drive, with the Jays seeking their second AL East crown in three years, and a chance to redeem the first one.
Two days earlier, having just set their season home-run mark, Toronto had tied their game record with five HRs in a 13-1 rout of the sinking Yankees — hitting three in a row in their final ups, touched off by Ernie Whitt’s 100th (and second that game). Five homers was one off the MLB high so far that year.
Baltimore limped in on a 6-game skid, near the end of Cal Ripken, Sr.’s one full year at the helm. They had already flown past their season high for taters served, and Monday’s pitcher was dishing them up at a record rate. The Jays bullied them all year, finishing 12-1. It was a perfect storm, and the O’s were about to get swamped:
Toronto hit 10 home runs in the game. And they only batted eight times.
Ernie Whitt slugged three for the only time in his career, each off a different hurler. George Bell hit two, for the ninth and last time in his MVP season. Lefty platoonsman Rance Mulliniks popped two, with one of his four career shots off a southpaw. Rookie Fred McGriff hit the 19th of his 493 career jacks. And native son Rob Ducey got his first ever, after replacing Lloyd Moseby, who also homered.
- Whitt was one of four original Jays still active 10 years later, including his batterymate, Jim Clancy.
- He was the 20th catcher with a 3-HR game. At the time, only Johnny Bench and Gary Carter had done it twice. The list’s unusual suspects include Dale Murphy (in that he only caught 85 times in his career), Don Leppert, Del Wilber, Clyde McCullough, and the first ever, Butch Henline.
It started calmly with Whitt, leading off the 2nd inning and breaking a scoreless tie. Soon after, two-run jobs by Mulliniks and Moseby knocked out Ken Dixon, leaving him with a 6.43 ERA and an eye-popping 31 HRs allowed in just 105 innings. Moseby’s 23rd home run advanced his career high, which settled at 26.
- Ken Dixon never pitched in the majors again, and still holds the record for highest HR/9 in a season of 100+ innings or 25+ HRs allowed.
- Lloyd Moseby was the second overall pick in the 1978 draft, a high schooler sandwiched by A.S.U.’s Bob Horner and Hubie Brooks. While Horner stepped right into Atlanta’s lineup (HR in first game, then R.O.Y. honors), Moseby sped through the minors in two-plus years, posting excellent stats for a fleet center fielder. Called up for good at age 20 — four months younger than Horner in their respective debuts — Lloyd was the youngest MLB regular in 1980 and ’81. But for three seasons, he hit around .230 with modest power, bad strikeout-to-walk ratios, and poor stolen-base rates. And then, boom, everything clicked in 1983, for player and team: a .315 average, 104 runs, 18 HRs, 27 stealsfor Moseby, and an 89-73 record for Toronto, their first winning season (and the first of 11 straight). For the next five years, Moseby was a cog on an annual contender.
- Moseby is still the only Blue Jay with 100+ games by age 20.
Baltimore got one back off Clancy in the top of the 3rd, when CF Mike Hart hit the last of his four career HRs. George Bell kicked off the home 3rd with a dinger off Eric Bell, his second in three ABs in that matchup. Two outs later, Mulliniks dialed “8” for the second time that game.
- Mike Hart retired after that year with a .162 career average, second-lowest of any live-ball outfielder with 100+ ABs.
- LHP Eric Bell, then 23, allowed 32 HRs in 165 IP that season, his only full year in the majors. Out of 272 pitchers who ever served 30+ in a season, Bell’s 235 career innings are the fewest by far.
- Rance Mulliniks is often remembered with Garth Iorg, because of their big ’85 when the Jays first reached the playoffs. (And because … well … Rance and Garth.) But that was the only good offensive year for Iorg. Mulliniks from 1983-88 was a steady .300-range batter with some pop — per 650 PAs, he had 41 doubles, 15 HRs and 75 walks — as long as he didn’t have to face lefties….
- Mulliniks would come to the plate over 4,000 times in his career, but barely 300 against southpaws (7.6%) — the lowest left-on-left rate of anyone with so many PAs.
The 4th saw no homers, but Tony Fernandez made the lead 8-1 with a 2-out single. Despite a potent attack (3rd in runs, 2nd in HRs), Toronto took most of the year to settle on a #3 hitter. After trying Moseby (.228, .266 OBP in that role), Jesse Barfield (.249, .298) and others, Jimy Williams turned to Fernandez, the line-drive-hitting All-Star shortstop. He started 27 of 28 games batting 3rd from late August through Sept. 24 and hit .352, lifting his season mark to .322, with 32 steals and Gold Glove defense.
- Bill Madlock’s takeout slide knocked Fernandez out of the lineup with nine games left. They would miss him.
Whitt’s second homer opened the 5th, setting a new team record of six homers. Bell went deep again in the 6th off Mike Kinnunen, the fourth Oriole pitcher and the fourth to be tatered. Seven HRs now, but five had been solo shots; the score was 10-2, still just a run-of-the-mill rout.
- Top of the 6th, Cal Ripken drove in brother Billy, one of about 65 times that happened in their seven years together; Billy returned the favor five times.
There were 2 outs, none on in the 7th when McGriff, the DH batting eighth, drew a walk. Singles by Willie Upshaw (1B, batting 9th) and Nelson Liriano brought up Rob Ducey, the 22-year-old local boy who’d gone in for Moseby that inning. Ducey had raked in the minors and got his first trial that May, but he soon hit his way back to Syracuse. Recalled with the roster expansion, he’d seen little action, a few innings afield and a single in nine trips. He was 0-10 against lefties so far, but he cranked a 3-run shot off Kinnunen, and the lead bulged to 14-1.
- Ducey would play in 13 seasons, but he never broke through as a regular. His 9 years with 30 to 99 PAs are a record for nonpitchers, and he hit just one more home run off a southpaw. But Ducey and George Bell were inducted this year into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
- Toronto’s DH hit eighth 40 times that year — more than all other teams combined, and topped only twice in the history of DH-dom, including the “record” of 62 times by the ’89 Jays. Their starting first baseman hit ninth 15 times, a total surpassed once in the 82 years from 1916-97.
The 7th inning still wasn’t over. Singles by subs Manny Lee and Lou Thornton brought up Whitt against Baltimore’s fifth pitcher, Tony Arnold. Whitt connected again, joining Otto Velez as the only Jays with a 3-HR game thus far.
- Bell joined that club on Opening Day ’88, poling three off Bret Saberhagen. The club now numbers 15, but only Carlos Delgado did it more than once — and his fifth time was one for the books.
Ripken drove in the last O’s run in the 8th, then came out of the game with his club trailing by two touchdowns. That’s right: Cal took a seat. McGriff was the first man in over five years to bat against Baltimore without Ripken on the left side of the infield, and he smacked the 10th homer, for the final score of 18-3. Two more flyballs in that inning stayed in the park.
Jim Clancy went 7 innings for his 13th win, en route to his third 5-WAR season. Little known outside Toronto, Clancy was their 6th pick in the expansion draft (available after a bad AA season), and spent 12 workhorse years with the Blue Jays, topping 200 innings six times, with three over 240. He started Opening Day in 1981 and ’84, allowing 2 total runs in 13.2 IP, but no decisions.
- Clancy’s still 2nd on their career list for innings and complete games, 3rd in wins and strikeouts.
The 8th went to Mark Eichhorn, the submarine specialist who was so brilliant as an ’86 rookie, with 157 relief innings and a 1.72 ERA. In ’87, Eichhorn worked shorter stints but more often, and finished with 89 appearances — one shy of Mike Marshall’s AL record, and since then unmatched in the junior circuit.
Hungry for work, closer Tom Henke pitched the 9th, striking out two. He wound up with 128 Ks in in 94 innings, his 12.3 SO/9 setting a record with for those with 50+ IP.
The career HR totals of those who went deep: McGriff 493, Bell 265, Moseby 169, Whitt 134, Mulliniks 73, and Ducey 31.
- Bell (4th), Moseby (7th), Whitt (8th), and McGriff (10th) are still among the Jays’ career HR leaders. Barfield (5th), the defending MLB homer champ, was corralled that day, but he had four of their 21 hits.
- Bell, Barfield and Moseby were the seventh outfield where each hit 25+ home runs.
Five pitchers allowing home runs for one team tied a record seen seven times before (including this 10-inning 1949 slugfest — in Comiskey Park?).
- The record was broken the very next day: Before 4,708 fans in Atlanta, the Reds romped, 21-6, with seven HRs off six different Braves, and a career day by Dave Parker. In spite of the homerific era that followed, and the sharp rise in the number of pitchers per game, that record is unmatched.
- The most players hitting a home run for one team is eight, set by the ’99 Reds in Philadelphia. They went into the 9th with nine HRs — the only team other team ever with nine in a game — but they went down in order.
- The ’87 Orioles set a new record with 226 HRs allowed, tying the old record in a 10-1 loss to Detroit (Chet Lemon homered off Eric Bell), and breaking it next day when Jose Mesa served Darrell Evans’s 34th. That mark stood until 1996, broken by Detroit in a game against Baltimore.
George Bell finished with 47 HRs and 134 RBI, besting Barfield’s team records of 40 and 108 from the year before. Those team marks would stand until Carlos Delgado (2000) and Jose Bautista (2010), respectively.
Down the Stretch They Come
This Toronto tale should have a happy ending, but … Though it touched off an 8-of-10 run, they were still tied with Detroit in the loss column. It would be settled face-to-face, seven of the last 10 games, the first four in Toronto. The Jays nearly delivered a first-round knockout: They beat Jack Morris, 4-3 (though Fernandez was lost), then scored 3 in the 9th against Willie Hernandez, walking off on Lou Whitaker’s error. Another last-ditch rally — with a game-winning 3-run triple by pinch-hitter Juan Beniquez off Dickie Noles — gave them seven straight wins, a 19-5 mark in September, and a lead of 3-1/2 with seven to go. The Tigers were staggered.
Game four matched Clancy with Doyle Alexander. With the Jays, he’d gone 34-16 in 1984-85, but got lit in the playoffs, then started slowly and was swapped to the Braves for Duane Ward. After two blah half-years in Atlanta, Alexander joined the Tigers in a post-deadline deal; it went down as a two-month jackpot with a 20-year mortgage. But right now, Alexander was staging the most dominant stretch drive since Bob Gibson. He’d won eight starts in a row, three shutouts, with a 1.40 ERA in nine outings, all won by the Tigers — one-third of their wins since the trade.
Toronto scored early on Bell’s RBI single. Clancy worked seven scoreless innings, and Henke took over the 8th with a 1-0 lead. (Fifteen of his 34 saves that year lasted more than an inning, with nine going 2 IP or more.) Henke had dominated Detroit for four years, and he set down the side in the 8th. Alexander did likewise, and Kirk Gibson led off the 9th. Henke had fanned him to seal the opener; now Gibby struck back with a tying homer. In the 11th, 40-year-old Darrell Evans said howdy-doody with his 33rd HR (that age-group record now threatened by Raul Ibanez). Alexander, still plugging away, got two outs in the 11th, but an error had prolonged the inning, and Barfield singled to tie, and Doyle departed. Evans was intentionally walked in the 13th, one out and a man on 2nd, and Gibson came through again with a go-ahead single. This one held, as Noles came on for the last out.
Still two up in the loss column, Toronto firmly controlled their own fate. But they’d not win again. The race was dead even by the time of the Motown showdown, and the hosts captured each game by one run. Alexander won the opener, finishing 9-0, 1.53 for Detroit, as Clancy let go an early 3-0 lead; Trammell’s HR tied it. Game two was Morris and Mike Flanagan, the Jays’ late-season pickup who’d pitched surprisingly well. Flanagan fanned nine for the first time since his ’79 Cy Young season, and went 11 innings — one of three who did so that final weekend, endurance that’s been topped just once since then. But Detroit won in the 12th, on Trammell’s single off the just-summoned Eichhorn, to clinch a share of the crown.
And in the finale, before 51,000 in Tiger Stadium, Larry Herndon homered in the 2nd off ERA champ Jimmy Key (who lost the Cy Young Award to Roger Clemens over the last two weeks). Key yielded just one further hit, wiped out on a DP. But the flamethrower-turned-junkman Frank Tanana made that one run stand up, whiffing nine for his 15th win. In the 4th, young Cecil Fielder was thrown out in his first steal attempt — busted hit-and-run? — right before Manny Lee’s triple. (Fielder would play over 1,000 games and hit 250 home runs before finally bagging a steal, off ex-Jays teammate Greg Myers.) Toronto got the tying run to second in the 7th and to third in the 8th, but Tanana slipped free with grounders. And when he snagged Iorg’s comebacker in the 9th, Detroit had their third and final AL East title.
And the MVP Goes to…
George Bell’s combo of 47 HRs and 134 RBI had not been seen in 10 years, and would not be reached again for nine seasons. But in those last seven losses, as the pennant melted away, Bell had three singles in 27 ABs, with no runs and one RBI — in the 1st inning of the first game. In the seven games with Detroit, he was 9 for 29 with 3 walks, a double, 2 RBI, 2 runs, and -0.38 WPA.
Alan Trammell had big season numbers and big hits down the stretch, batting .419/.497/.698 with 8 HRs from August 31. In the seven games with Toronto, he was 10-24 with 8 walks, a HR, 3 doubles, 4 RBI, 3 runs, 2 steals, and +0.44 WPA. Overall, it was an all-time great year by a shortstop: .343 average, 28 HRs, 105 RBI, 109 runs, 21-2 in steals, with his usual strong defense, scoring 8.2 WAR.
- 10th shortstop to reach that WAR level.
- 155 OPS+, 8th SS with a 150 season.
- Highest BA by a SS since 1948.
- His second straight 20/20 season (out of six by all shortstops thus far), and the first to add either 200 hits or 100 RBI.
Trammell did this while installed at cleanup for the first time ever — he had never hit third, either — an angle that story-loving MVP voters might have lapped up, especially given the pennant-race outcome. But Bell’s ribbies carried a close race for the hardware. He was the first Dominican honored with either of the top trophies; MVPs have since gone to Sammy Sosa, Miguel Tejada, Vladimir Guerrero & Adrian Beltre (a 2004 sweep) and Albert Pujols (3 times), and Cy Youngs to Pedro Martinez (3) and Bartolo Colon. Bell is still the Jays’ lone MVP.
This is the end of part one. In part two, the road forward: how the Blue Jays finally got to the mountaintop.