Major League Baseball, especially the Blue Jays, supplied many memorable sports moments in 2015, but none more-so than the blast from the blue, the Jose Bautista bomb that propelled the Jays to a Game 5 victory against the Texas Rangers in the American League Division Series.
The reason that baseball is historically important, a sport in which memories can so easily be passed down from fathers and mothers to sons and daughters is that, of all the major sports, it is the one in which special moments can be held onto and retold like snapshots in time.
In hockey, basketball and football, memories tend more to descriptions of the actions that lead to victory.
With that as a guide, Bautista’s three-run homer and legendary bat-flip vs. Sam Dyson and the Rangers cracks my Top 5 list of all-time home run memories, that I witnessed in person as either a public relations person, from 1973-95, or as the Star’s baseball columnist from 1995 to the present.
Following is a list of my own fabulous five, leading off with the Bautista blast that will always be my most indelible memory of 2015 and that I will recount to my descendants, in time.
Bautista vs. Rangers, Oct. 14, 2015 at Rogers Centre
The Jays found themselves down by a run headed to the bottom of the seventh in the decisive ALDS Game 5. In the top of the inning, a simple throwback to the mound by Russ Martin hit the extended bat of Shin-Soo Choo as he adjusted his compression sleeve between pitches. The ball skittered towards third and Rougned Odor scampered home with the go-ahead run. “The baseball gods will not allow it to end this way,” I told my working seat-mates in the press box. I was right.
In the seventh, the gods decreed that the Rangers make simple errors on three consecutive batted balls to load the bases. After lefty Cole Hamels had retired Ben Revere on a force-out at the plate, hard-throwing Sam Dyson came in to face MVP Josh Donaldson. The Jays tied the game on a fielder’s choice, then Bautista stepped into the box. He saw two pitches then crushed a 1-1 offering deep into the left-centre field stands, watched for a moment, turned his head briefly to the Rangers dugout, snarled and launched his bat high into the air before beginning his victory lap. Snapshot.
Rick Monday vs. Expos, Oct. 19, 1981 at Olympic Stadium
The Expos had reached the deciding game of the NLCS after capturing the second half of the strike-shortened season, defeating the Phillies in five games in the Division Series. Ray Burris had battled Fernando Valenzuela, tied 1-1 after eight innings when starting ace Steve Rogers, who had won big game after big game down the stretch, entered in relief to pitch the ninth, with Jeff Reardon reported as unavailable. With two outs, Monday launched what seemed like merely a deep flyball to centre field. Andre Dawson drifted back and drifted back some more as the ball came down like a dagger from the sky on the wrong side of the fence. Dawson’s head slumped against the wall. Snapshot.
Joe Carter vs. Phillies, Oct. 23, 1993 at SkyDome
Mitch Williams, the Phillies’ erratic closer had started the bottom of the ninth, nursing a one-run lead that would take the World Series to a Game 7 the next day. As he pitched to Paul Molitor, Phils’ broadcaster Chris Wheeler stood next to me in the pressbox and muttered, “Hey can we borrow (Expos’ closer) John Wetteland for an inning?” We laughed. Molitor singled to centre and Carter stepped to the plate. He hooked a line drive over the left-field wall and danced around the bases in joyous celebration. “Touch ’em all, Joe,” intoned the late Hall of Fame broadcaster Tom Cheek. Snapshot.
Kirk Gibson vs. A’s, Oct. 14, 1988 at Dodger Stadium.
This World Series Game 1 was supposed to be over. With A’s closing ace Dennis Eckersley on the hill and a one-run lead in the ninth, I was walking along the concourse behind the stands on the third-base line, headed for the losing clubhouse to help out in gathering quotes for major-league’s volunteer public relations staff. With every pitch, I would stop and watch. There were two outs and Gibson could hardly walk, seemingly in pain after every pitch. Then came the moment. He spun on a low offering and golfed it into the right-field stands. Snapshot. All of a sudden I was headed to the winning clubhouse.
Mark McGwire vs. Cubs, Sept. 8, 1998 at Busch Stadium
The extra media crowd was worthy of a post-season game as McGwire aimed for home run No. 62 that would pass Roger Maris into first place for home runs in a season. I was at Molitor’s quest for 3,000 hits as a member of the Twins, so I realized that with a big milestone in sight, this assignment could stretch out for a week or more. I was checking hotels in Cincinnati and the possibility of renting a car, when McGwire stepped up for his second at-bat of the game against Steve Trachsel. He crushed the first pitch down the line in left that was hit so hard it didn’t have a chance to hook foul and disappeared under the stands. He had done it. Cubs first baseman Mark Grace tried to slap hands as he rounded the bases and his son greeted him at home plate. Snapshot. The game was delayed as the Maris family and commissioner Bud Selig joined the celebration. If only we had all known then.
There are more. Approaching 5,000 MLB games attended in person, it was tough to narrow the list to five. There was Mike Schmidt vs. the Expos in ’80, Albert Pujols’s third homer of the game in the 2011 World Series. There was Derek Jeter vs. the Diamondbacks as the clock struck midnight marking the beginning of November at Yankee Stadium in 2001 and Kirby Puckett’s Game 6 blast for the Twins that paired with his leaping catch setting up Jack Morris for his Game 7 shutout in 1991.
But the Bautista home run, due to its freshness and the Jays’ subsequent victory celebration that it created six outs later, has moved to the top of that list as a snapshot I will always remember.