According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Toronto Blue Jays have lost 2,709 games in franchise history. There have been more important losses, more heart-rending losses, and more memorable losses, but none of losses were quite as lamely filtered away as one that came 10,000 days ago today.
After nine innings, they battled the Orioles to a 4-4 tie in Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium. The top of the tenth got off to a great start for the visiting Blue Jays, as Cliff Johnson led off the frame with a go-ahead homer. Jays led, 5-4. As an added bonus, Barry Bonnell followed that up with a single. Things were going great.
They were about to go stupid. Baltimore manager Joe Altobelli inserted a new relief pitcher: southpaw Tippy Martinez. Often a lefty will be inserted in relief late in the game to gain the platoon advantage at the plate. This time, the key advantage would be the lefty’s platoon advantage at first base.
Before focusing on batter Dave Collins at the plate, Martinez tried to pickoff Bonnell at first. It worked – Baltimore had him dead to rights, so he made a desperate, futile run to second, where he was nabbed. One away.
It’s a good thing Martinez got the runner at first, because he couldn’t do anything with the batter: Collins walked. Well, if it worked with Bonnell, let’s see what happens if Martinez throws to first with Collins on. Sure enough, Martinez’s pickoff was too good, and Collins was out.
Now, a lefty should have a better pick off move to first – he faces that direction, after all. But back-to-back runners picked off in an inning? That’s plain embarrassing for the other team. But it was about to get worse.
Yep, that’s right. Willie Upshaw, the next batter, managed an infield single – and was immediately picked off by Martinez. Suffice it to say, three batters picked off in an inning isn’t normal. In all, Toronto got four men on base, made no outs at the plate, but came away with one run and none left on.
Fittingly, the Jays blew it in the bottom of the inning. Cal Ripken led off with a homer to tie it, and then non-slugger Lenn Sakata hit a three-run game-winning home. It was his first long ball in two months and one of only two walk-off shots in his career. As bad as delivering a gopher ball to Sakata was, it was nothing compared to how Toronto handled themselves in the top of the tenth. It was some of the worst base running of all time, and it came with the game on the line.