TORONTO -- The Toronto Blue Jays were being stolen blind. They had set a record for stolen bases allowed in a postseason. They had been denied a more positive place in the record book when an apparent triple play was stolen from under their noses. It was almost criminal.
But when it came down to crunch time last night, they beat the Atlanta Braves at their own game.
Left fielder Candy Maldonado delivered a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the ninth to give the Blue Jays a 3-2 victory in the first World Series game ever played outside the United States, but it was a stolen base that made it happen.
Roberto Alomar singled and stole second with no outs to set the wheels in motion. There followed an intentional walk, a sacrifice, another intentional walk and a couple of pitching changes before Maldonado won a head-to-head showdown with Braves stopper Jeff Reardon and put the Blue Jays up 2-1 in the best-of-seven Series.
The Braves had done essentially the same thing to take the lead in the eighth inning, the go-ahead run set up when Otis Nixon stole second on a pitchout. But the Blue Jays came back to score another dramatic victory and send the sellout crowd of 51,813 into hysterics.
Things are not going well for Reardon, who gave up a game-winning, two-run homer to Ed Sprague in the ninth inning of Game 2. He needed to strike out Maldonado or keep the ball in the infield, but he gave up a long line drive that Nixon didn't even bother to chase.
It was the second game in a row decided after the eighth inning. The Braves appeared ready to put the hammer down when 1991 World Series goat Lonnie Smith delivered a two-out single to break a 1-1 tie in the eighth inning, but it wasn't going to be quite that simple.
Braves left-hander Steve Avery was cruising at that point. He had given up just three hits and set a season high with eight strikeouts through the seventh inning. He had looked almost untouchable in the middle innings. But Kelly Gruber, whose error at third base had turned into the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth, broke a postseason record 0-for-23 slump with a leadoff home run in the bottom of the eighth.
That got Juan Guzman off the hook after an eight-inning performance in which he gave up two runs on eight hits. He gave way to reliever Duane Ward in the ninth and was not involved in the decision.
Gruber was all over the place. He also was right in the middle of a strange play in the fourth inning that almost put Toronto in the history books.
The Blue Jays nearly pulled off one of the greatest defensive plays in World Series history. Well, they actually did pull one off, but they didn't get credit where credit should have been due.
Devon White made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch to rob David Justice of an extra-base hit in the fourth inning, setting off a series of events that should have culminated with only the second triple play ever turned in the World Series.
The Braves had runners at first and second when Justice launched his line drive to straightaway center. White made his leaping catch to record the first out of the inning and Terry Pendleton passed Deion Sanders on the bases to record the second. This is where it gets interesting.
White threw the ball to second baseman Alomar, who unwittingly tried to throw out Pendleton returning to first. Never mind that Pendleton already was out, the throw coaxed Sanders to break from second base and hang himself up in a rundown. The first World Series triple play since 1920 seemed like just a formality at that point. First baseman John Olerud threw the ball to third baseman Gruber, who chased Sanders back toward second and made a diving tag.
Umpire Bob Davidson ruled Sanders safe and touched off the second major umpiring controversy of the series. The video replay clearly (very clearly) showed that Gruber did tag Sanders well before he got back to the base. Davidson appeared to be in perfect position to make the call, but his ruling kept the Blue Jays from being credited with the first World Series triple play since Cleveland Indians second baseman Bill Wambsganss turned an unassisted triple play in the 1920 Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Gruber argued animatedly, and why not? He had a chance to write his name in the record book, but he also bore a small measure of the responsibility for letting a historic moment get away. He ran the speedier Sanders all the way back to second when he could have flipped the ball to Alomar for an easier out.
In short, the triple play was possible because of a throw that should not have been made (the unnecessary throw to first) and it was prevented in part because of a throw that should have been.
Pendleton should get some discredit for making it possible, too. What was he doing? The play was right in front of him, but he apparently anticipated the ball off the wall and badly overran the play.
The Blue Jays settled for a double play, but it would be enough to help Guzman get out of a serious jam. If White had not made the catch, the Braves would have scored twice and Justice would have been at second with no one out.
Toronto Blue Jays vs. Atlanta Braves (Blue Jays lead, 2-1) Game 1: Braves 3, Blue Jays 1
Game 2: Blue Jays 5, Braves 4
Game 3: Blue Jays 3, Braves 2
Tonight: at Toronto, 8:26
Tomorrow: at Toronto, 8:26
Saturday: at Atlanta, 8:26*
Sunday: at Atlanta, 8:29*
(*-if necessary) TV: Channels 11, 9
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)