ATLANTA — ATLANTA -- Maybe this is the way it had to be.
Before the Toronto Blue Jays could win their first World Series championship, they had to contend with memories of three past postseason failures. One more time they had to deal with the possibility of another excruciating setback.
But finally, in a game that barely ended before Daylight Savings Time, the Blue Jays became survivors by beating the Atlanta Braves, 4-3, in 11 innings. All four of their victories had been by one run. And, as they savored the feeling, one man standing alone in the corner of the clubhouse could appreciate what had taken place.
"I've gone from walking in snow to walking in champagne," said first-base coach Bob Bailor. He was the only one present who was in uniform April 7, 1977, when the Blue Jays played their first game -- with snow flurries decorating Exhibition Stadium.
"I feel like I've come full cycle," said Bailor, who was considered the best unprotected prospect in the Orioles' organization when he was selected by the Blue Jays. He played four years in Toronto, then finished his career in the National League with the Mets and Dodgers before returning to the Blue Jays as first a minor-league manager and then a major-league coach.
Two members of the present
team, disabled pitcher Dave Stieb and infielder Alfredo Griffin are former teammates -- and along the way he played against rookie catcher Ed Sprague's father.
"It's a wonderful feeling, because it's a great town and a great organization," said Bailor. "I would have liked to have spent my whole career
with this team. But one of the things that makes this organization so successful is that they [the front office] don't let guys stay beyond their time. It's hard, but that's part of baseball."
In another part of the room were two players who possibly could become highly visible examples of the Blue Jays' tough self-evaluation system. Pat Borders hit .450 (9-for-20) and was named World Series MVP, and right-hander Mike Timlin was the pitcher when the deciding Game 6 ended.
It's very possible that neither will be protected from the upcoming expansion draft and could be lost to one of the two new National League teams. But early yesterday morning, amid the celebrating, Borders and Timlin were unconcerned by that possibility.
"When the game finally ended [shortly before 1 a.m. and after 11 innings], I didn't realize it," Borders said. "I just stood there for an instant after the third out.
"They [the Braves] had battled back so many times . . . they were such a good team. I couldn't believe they finally made the last out."
The odds against Timlin being the pitcher to record the final out of Toronto's first championship were so staggering they were off the board. Yet, there he was, the seventh pitcher used by manager Cito Gaston, facing Otis Nixon, the man who had tied the game with a two-out single in the ninth inning.
The game ended when, with the tying run 90 feet away, Nixon tried to bunt for a single. Timlin, who had spent part of the season in the minor leagues, remained amazingly calm while fielding the ball and not rushing his throw, which beat Nixon by a half-step.
When it was over, Timlin was alone near the first-base line, looking frantically to find somebody to grab. Finally he ran to the pitching mound, where the Blue Jays had congregated for a boisterous post-game celebration.
Timlin was asked how he managed to handle the pressure-packed situation. "Well, I had to go back to Dunedin [in the Florida State League] on rehabilitation for a while this year," he said.
"When I came in, I just tried to make out like I was pitching in a Single-A game," he said. "Of course, I had Pat Borders behind the plate, so that made it a little different."
It's doubtful if anybody has ever before tried to liken the deciding game of the World Series to a Single-A game. But Timlin, 26, in only his second big-league season, came in and threw two strikes (the first a full-swing foul by Nixon) to end the game.
Some questioned the wisdom of Nixon's attempt for a bunt single, and the Blue Jays admitted they anticipated the possibility. "He even bunted the ball right where Cito said he would," said Timlin.
Of course, it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why -- with an untested pitcher on the mound and an outfielder (Joe Carter) playing first base.
Borders and Timlin were an unlikely pair of World Series heroes. They may even have been better candidates for a uniform of either the Florida Marlins or Colorado Rockies next year.
But when the Toronto Blue Jays finally ended the chase for their elusive World Series championship, the two relative unknowns were playing major roles -- and providing more evidence as to why the organization is so successful.
After teasing their fans for seven years, the Jays finally got to take the trophy across the border. And no, they didn't have to pay duty tax while passing through U.S. Customs.
This time they got it right.