20th anniversary: The Joe Carter game

Twenty years go today, one of the most famous World Series games of all time took place: the Joe Carter game.

It was Game Six of the 1993 World Series on Oct. 23, 1993, and the Toronto Blue Jays entered just one game away from becoming baseball’s first back-to-back world champions since the 1977-’78 Yankees.

Pitching for the Blue Jays was aging veteran Dave Stewart. He was clearly past his prime, but the former ace of the 1988-’90 A’s dynasty had plenty of experience working in high-pressure postseason games.

Opposing Steward and the Jays were the NL champion Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies actually won more games in 1993—97 to Toronto’s 95. They won those 97 games on the strength of their bats. They finished first or second in a host of offensive categories: runs, hits, doubles, triples, walks, batting average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+. They were well rounded.

But so far the Phillies had been done in by their pitching, which wasn’t nearly as impressive. Toronto had scored 8, 10, and 15 runs in its three wins so far. It was up to starter Terry Mulholland to keep the Jays’ bats at bay in this game. Though he’d later become a longtime lefty reliever, Mulholland was then an effective starter, with a 3.25 ERA on the season.

But early on, it didn’t look like Mulholland had it. The Jays nearly hit for the cycle in the first inning against him, scoring three runs on a walk, triple, double and single. Mulholland soon calmed down, but the Phillies couldn’t seem to dig their way out of that early hole. After six frames, the Jays led comfortably, 5-1. It didn’t look like they’d need any late game heroics to clinch the championship.

But then in the seventh the Phillies showed everyone how good their offense could be. After Stewart let the first two batters reach, Lenny Dykstra made him pay with a three-run homers. Toronto still had the lead, but now it was a much narrower 5-4 affair.

Out went Stewart and in came reliever Danny Cox. He didn’t allow any big hits, but he couldn’t get them out either. He allowed three singles and a walk. That tied the score 5-5, with the bases loaded and just one out.

Toronto manager Cito Gaston called on a new pitcher, Al Leiter. He’d been in the Toronto system for years, but had gotten hardly any playing time until this year. Now the 27-year-old swingman was called on at this most important of moments.

He did all right. He did allow the leading run to score on a sacrifice fly, but that was it. It wasn’t ideal, but at least the Blue Jays were still in striking distance, down 6-5. But in the bottom of the seventh, Toronto couldn’t do anything, going down in order. Now the Jays had just six outs left.

The eighth looked like it might be their inning. After Carter flew out to lead off, John Olerud worked the count for a walk. Olerud then advanced on a grounder to Roberto Alomar. The good news for Toronto was the tying run was in scoring position. The bad news was there were two outs.

But the bullpen wasn’t Philadelphia’s strength. Its ERA was 4.00, ninth in the NL. Reliever Larry Anderson hit the next batter and then walked another to load the bases. It looked like Toronto could tie it without even a hit. Or not. Pat Borders popped up to end the inning.

The Phillies went down in order in the top of the ninth, and now it was time for the final three outs. To close out the win, the Phillies brought in their relief ace, Mitch Williams. Nicknamed “Wild Thing,” Williams had once set the record (that still stands) for most walks in a season out of the bullpen: 91 with the 1987 Rangers.

While he had 43 saves on the year, he’d also allowed 100 base runners in 63 innings—44 reaching by walk. He’d been especially bad down the stretch, with a 6.24 ERA in his last 15 outings, with 14 walks and 14 hits in 13 innings. Just three days earlier, Williams had given up three runs in two-thirds of an inning while helping cough up a lead in a 15-14 loss in Game Four.

Leading off the top of the ninth, Wild Thing faced Rickey Henderson, one of the few batters in baseball history to walk more than 2,000 times. Naturally, Henderson drew a free pass. Up next came Devon White, and in an epic nine-pitch at bat, Williams got the better of him, getting a fly out.

With the Jays down to just two outs, Paul Molitor came out. The 3,000 hit club member did what he did best: get a hit. Henderson scooted to second, and suddenly extra innings looked like a real possibility.

That’s when Joe Carter came up. You know what happened next. After working the count to two balls and two strikes, Williams delivered a pitch that Carter sent deep into the stands in left field. That was it. Previously, just one World Series had ended on a walk-off home run—Bill Mazeroski‘s in Game Seven of 1960. Now, Joe Carter made it two.

Toronto had done it—become world champions again. And the Blue Jays did it 20 years ago today.

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Comments

  1. Lex said...

    actually, Carter’s home run ball ended up in the Toronto bullpen, not the stands. great moment nonetheless. thanks for writing the article.

  2. Lobo said...

    Only 2 WS ended with a walk off home run. When Maz hit his homer in 1960, one of his team mates was Dick Schofield.
    When Carter hit his in 1993, one of his team mates was Dick Schofield’s son, Dick.

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