Ferguson: Jays' thrilling win in Tampa stirs memories of '88

Scott Ferguson
9/5/2014 12:01:28 PM
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You've got to admit - when 'Lost Boys' Colby Rasmus and Casey Janssen led the Blue Jays to that thrilling 10-inning win at Tropicana Field Thursday night, it felt like something magical was unfolding with this club.

Rasmus, who had been benched for the platoon of Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar, pinch hit for John Mayberry Jr. and promptly slugged a game-winning solo homer in the top of the 10th. Then in the bottom of the 10th, Janssen -  another free agent-to-be at the end of the season - chalked up his 21st save. Who writes this stuff up?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Blue Jays' best September runs - all of which revolved around their five division titles and two World Series victories.

But I purposely left one out in case a circumstance like this came up. Remember - though the Jays have won five in a row, they're still 4 1/2 games back of Detroit for that final wild card slot in the American League and they still have to jump over three teams - the Yankees, Seattle and Detroit - to reach their goal.

That said, I bring you the run of 1988.

It was the Blue Jays' final full season at old Exhibition Stadium. They started September at 66-68 and were fifth in the seven-team American League East, 9 1/2 games back of division-leading Detroit. In fact, they were only a 1 1/2 ahead of sixth-place Cleveland and there were already whispers that manager Jimy Williams could be gone by the end of the season, if not sooner.

The 1988 season was the second-last year the 'Million Dollar Outfield' of George Bell, Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield played together as a unit. The pitching staff was anchored by the likes of Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key and Mike Flanagan with youngsters like Todd Stottlemyre and David Wells coming along. The bullpen had the 1-2 punch of Tom Henke and Duane Ward. With Pat Borders, Fred McGriff, Tony Fernandez and Kelly Gruber also on hand, this team had underachieved for the first five months of the season.

Then, all of a sudden, something special happened in September. The Blue Jays won six in a row to start the month, followed by four in a row and closed the season on Oct. 2 with a six-game winning streak. In total, they went 21-7 over the last 32 days of the campaign. There was no wild card in those days, so it was win the division or bust.
Detroit, Boston and the Yankees all hovered around the .500 mark for September. Milwaukee, like the Jays, put on a strong stretch run going 17-8.

But at the end of the day, Boston's 15-14 mark for the final month was good enough to let them win the division by just a single game ahead of Detroit - the team that had beaten the Jays out the year before in that gut-wrenching final weekend series at Tiger Stadium.

As for the Blue Jays and Milwaukee, they finished in a tie for third at 87-75 1 1/2 games ahead of the Yankees. It was one of the closest division races in history.

As a post script, the 1989 Blue Jays got off to a slow start at 12-24, Williams was fired and caught fire under promoted hitting coach Cito Gaston. They won their second division title before losing the ALCS to Rickey Henderson and the Oakland A's.

One other note from that 1988 season, the Montreal Expos also finished third in the National League East. However, they wound up at 81-81 and ended their season 20 games behind the division-winning New York Mets.

I know baseball - and sports for that matter - is all about performance, but it was kind of sad this week to see Kansas City designate veteran lefty Bruce Chen for assignment, especially with the club so close to possibly ending its post-season appearance drought.

You can never write off a lefty, but if this is it, Chen compiled an 82-80 record over his 16 seasons in the majors with a 4.58 ERA and one save. He pitched for 10 different organizations - including the Expos - and next to Rod Carew and Mariano Rivera is probably the third most famous Major Leaguer to hail from Panama.

The Cubs 'High A' ball affiliate the Daytona Cubs eliminated the Dunedin Blue Jays in two straight in their first round playoff series in the Florida State League. But one of the Cubs prospects caught my eye, or at least his name did. Daytona has a first baseman with one of the All-time great names - 'Rock' Shoulders. Hope he's a clean-up hitter in the majors one day.

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