TORONTO — When you’ve played 6,841 regular-season games and 61 postseason games in franchise history, there’s bound to be all sorts of memorable ones on both sides of the ledger.
The Toronto Blue Jays, despite being a relatively young franchise in the grand scheme of things, have endured quite the up-and-down history, with the highest of highs (two World Series titles), the lowest of lows (three 100-loss seasons), and nearly two decades of mediocrity sandwiched in recently for good measure.
When attempting to put together a list of the best games in franchise history, you quickly realize you’re about to encounter two problems.
The first is defining “best.”
Is that exciting? Does that mean only winning? Do the games have to be in the postseason?
There are lots of ways to define it for each and every individual, with no right answer.
Which brings us to the next problem.
This list will be different for everyone based on memories, expectations, and how many grey hairs you own as of today.
There are, however, a handful of games — especially in the best category — that should be near the top of everyone’s list because, as they say, flags fly forever.
The Best and Worst of the Blue Jays on TSN.ca:
Mon, April 13 – The five best and worst trades
Wed, April 15 – The five best and worst infielders
Fri, April 17 – The five best and worst seasons
Mon, April 20 – The five best and worst draft picks
Wed, April 22 – The five best and worst pitchers
Fri, April 24 – The five best and worst moments
The Best Games
5. (TIE) Dave Stieb finally throws a no-hitter, Sept. 2, 1990; Roy Halladay’s near no-hitter, Sept. 27, 1998
Two years after the heartbreak of losing no-hitters with two outs in the ninth inning in consecutive starts — think about that for a second and let it sink in — Stieb finally got the monkey off his back, holding the Cleveland Indians hitless in a 3-0 win on the road at Cleveland Stadium.
Stieb walked four and threw 123 pitches, lowering his ERA to 2.91 that day, while the Crime Dog, Fred McGriff, homered twice to provide the support.
The two near misses weren’t the only time Stieb flirted with a no-no, as he lost another one in 1985 in the ninth inning on back-to-back homers, so the fact that he finally finished one off was the baseball gods making things right.
Through the 2019 season, there have been 260 no-hitters in the modern era and Stieb’s is still the only no-no in Blue Jays history.
In late September of 1998, a highly-regarded young right-hander almost joined Stieb, but Detroit Tigers pinch-hitter Bobby Higginson homered with two outs in the ninth in front of 38,036 stunned onlookers at SkyDome on the final day of the season.
Roy Halladay, making just his second big-league start as a 21-year-old, was brilliant, needing just 95 pitches to spin what ended up being a complete game, one-hitter.
With the energy in the ballpark as evidence, fans thought they were witnessing the start of something special that day, and they were right. It just took a little bit longer than everyone expected.
Halladay would eventually get his no-no and then some in a Phillies uniform, throwing a perfect game on May 29, 2010, and then the second-ever no-hitter in the postseason later that year.
4. Game 3 of 1992 World Series, Oct. 20, 1992
While the light toss from Mike Timlin to Joe Carter at first base in the clincher in Game 6 might be the pick for some, that will be highlighted a little later on in this nine-part series when we get to the best moments, but the first World Series appearance in franchise history wasn’t short on important games.
After the 98-win Atlanta Braves hosted the first two games of the series, things shifted to Toronto and Canadian soil for the first time ever.
With the series tied 1-1, 51,813 frenzied Jays fans drove their Pontiac Grand Ams and Buick LeSabres to SkyDome to see their team finally make a Fall Classic appearance after a number of near-misses in the late '80s and early '90s.
But that’s not the only reason it’s one of the best games in franchise history.
It also had a sequence that people still talk about to this day.
In the fourth inning, Braves outfielder David Justice drove a ball deep to centre field that Devon White snatched just before crashing into the wall, a grab that started what would have been a triple play had it not been for a missed call by second base umpire Bob Davidson.
Adamant that he had tagged Deion Sanders on the heel, Jays third baseman Kelly Gruber put up a fight that instant replay would’ve quickly solved today.
The Catch was the signature moment in a 3-2 win that ended on a Candy Maldonado single in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Jays a series lead that they would not relinquish.
3. Game 4 of 1993 World Series, Oct. 20, 1993
On the very same day a year later, the Jays and Philadelphia Phillies played a barnburner for the ages in Game 4 at Veterans Stadium.
With the Jays holding a 2-1 edge in the series, the game was wild from the get-go. The two teams combined for seven runs in the first inning, setting up what’s still the highest-scoring game in World Series history and probably will continue to be for a long time.
Down 14-9 at the end of seven innings, most had already given the Phillies the W to knot the series at two games apiece, but the Jays exploded for six runs in the eighth inning to take a 15-14 lead, one that would somehow hold up with the only scoreless inning of the ballgame coming in the ninth.
Six Blue Jays — Rickey Henderson, Devon White, Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter, Paul Molitor and Tony Fernandez — pounded out multiple hits in the four-hour and 14-minute affair.
2. The Bat Flip, Oct. 14, 2015
The amount of raw emotion in the building during Game 5 of the American League Division Series five years ago could be felt all across the country.
That’s what you get when there’s 22 years of frustration boiling underneath the surface.
In between that October 1993 game you read about above and this one 22 years later, there wasn’t a whole lot for Blue Jays fans to cheer about.
From the time Joe Carter walked-off the Phillies through 2014, the Jays never won more than 88 games in a season, didn’t sniff the playoffs, and generally just lived in obscurity in the AL East.
Led by a potent lineup and buoyed by a pair of aggressive in-season trades, that finally changed in 2015. Jose Bautista provided a signature moment for the ages when he clubbed a three-run homer off Rangers reliever Sam Dyson in the seventh inning to help clinch the Jays their first series win in more than two decades.
The 53-minute controversy that was the seventh inning was part Hollywood, part blooper reel, but the most talked-about part of it all was the epic bat flip Bautista finished it with.
The legendary bat toss put an exclamation point on what’s surely the wildest game in franchise history.
1. Game 4 of 1992 ALCS, Oct. 11, 1992
Before the Jays were back-to-back World Series champs, they were the kings of coming close.
Throughout the mid-to-late '80s, there were some really good ballclubs built, but all of them failed to get over the hump.
Whether it was 1985, 1987 or 1991, the disappointments were numerous and, at this point, still etched into the minds of every single person following the team.
That all changed in 1992, but it didn’t happen in the World Series against the Braves.
That moment came in Game 4 of the ALCS out on the West Coast in Oakland when Roberto Alomar barrelled a Dennis Eckersley pitch and sent it for a ride over the right-field wall in the top of the ninth inning, tying the game 6-6 and sending it to extras.
The Jays eventually won the game 7-6, taking a stranglehold on a series they closed out in six games.
From the brink of losing momentum in the series to touching up the most dominant closer in baseball — to fully understand the situation you have to remember that Eckersley not only won the Cy Young that year but also took home AL MVP with 51 saves and a 1.91 ERA — Alomar jogging down the first base line at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum with his arms raised was when everything changed.
Had they lost that game and allowed the A’s to tie the series, who knows how things may have turned out.
The Worst Games
5. 16-0 loss to Oakland A’s at home, July 25, 2012
Just after the all-star break back in 2012, the Jays were sitting right at .500 with a 48-48 record as they geared up to face the Oakland A’s and starter A.J. Griffin on a quiet Wednesday night inside Rogers Centre.
A little more than three hours later, the Jays had suffered through a 16-0 loss, a whitewashing that still stands as the worst shutout loss in franchise history.
The game wasn’t memorable. Not in the least.
Only 23,948 showed up to see Coco Crisp homer twice off Jays reliever Drew Carpenter, who was mopping up for Ricky Romero after the starter had allowed a ghastly eight earned runs and walked six.
He recorded just four outs.
The ugly loss was a microcosm of the previous 18 seasons, and the John Farrell-led Jays went 25-40 from that point forward, finishing the year 73-89.
4. Opening Day 2013
With each and every Alex Anthopoulos blockbuster, expectations grew ahead of the 2013 season.
So high, in fact, that Vegas oddsmakers at one point installed the Toronto Blue Jays — yes, a team working on a 19-year postseason drought — as the World Series favourites.
Reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Melky Cabrera had all be acquired to do one thing: Make the playoffs.
Hindsight, of course, is 20/20, but it became very apparent, very quickly that this Jays team was more pretender than contender and opening day was a punch in the face after a winter of excitement.
With Dickey on the mound, catcher J.P. Arencibia needed only less than two innings to let three balls knuckle past him, setting a franchise record for passed balls.
The 4-1 loss set the tone for the entire season and the Jays stumbled out of the gates with a 10-17 record in April.
They never recovered, finishing with a 74-88 record in John Gibbons’ first season back as manager.
3. 24-2 loss to California Angels on Aug. 25, 1979
In a 109-loss campaign, still the worst to date for this franchise and very hard to top, there are going to be some ugly moments.
None uglier than a late August trip out west.
With a 40-88 record, manager Roy Hartsfield & Co. were simply playing out the string, dreaming of a vacation and a fresh start.
Not long after the 1:02 p.m. first pitch on the West Coast, the Angels were pounding on the Jays and kicking them while they were down, scoring eight runs in the first, three in the second, two in the third, three in the fourth, one in the fifth, and five in the six to take what some would call a commanding 22-2 lead.
When all was said and done, the Angels belted out 26 hits, DH Don Baylor had driven in eight runs, and the 24-2 loss is still the most runs the Jays have allowed in team history.
That 22-run margin of defeat was equalled on Sept. 28, 2000, when the Baltimore Orioles hung 23 on the Jays at Camden Yards in a 23-1 drubbing.
2. Game 4 of 2015 ALCS, Oct. 20, 2015
After the excitement of the dramatic series win over the Texas Rangers in the ALDS, the Jays promptly went out and dropped the first two games of the ALCS at Kauffman Stadium to find themselves in an early hole.
They started digging out of it in Game 3, jumping all over the Royals and riding Marcus Stroman to an 11-8 win.
At home once again the very next night in front of another raucous Rogers Centre crowd, Dickey laid an absolute egg and it was essentially over after the Royals put up a four spot in the first inning.
Not only did the Jays get punched in the throat in the 14-2 loss and sent to the brink of elimination, Gibbons also elected to send position player Cliff Pennington to the mound in the ninth inning in an effort to save his bullpen.
It marked the first time a position player had ever taken the mound in the postseason.
Fun moment, maybe, in mid-August, but completely embarrassing when it’s a game as important as this one was.
1. Game 7 of 1985 ALCS, Oct. 16, 1985
On Oct. 12, the Jays took a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series.
A year earlier, the series would’ve been over because prior to 1985 the ALCS was a five-of-five affair.
The Jays proceeded to drop Game 5 in Kansas City by a 2-0 score.
Game 6 was another missed opportunity to reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history as the Jays fell 5-3, setting up a white-knuckle seventh game.
By far the biggest game in franchise history to date, the Jays sent their ace, Stieb, to the mound, but after winning his first two starts in the series, the Royals got to the 27-year-old right-hander for six earned runs over 5.2 innings.
The bats didn’t help, scratching out just one run over the first eight innings in the eventual 6-2 loss, sending the Jays home for the winter instead of to the Fall Classic for a matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Not only was it an epic collapse, the loss marked the end of the Bobby Cox era, while it also eventually became the final postseason game ever played at Exhibition Stadium.