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Today in Blue Jays History: Jays huge comeback win over Red Sox

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Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

30 Years Ago Today

The Blue Jays had a huge comeback win over the Red Sox. At the time we were having a great run at Fenway Park. Going in to the game, on June 4 1989, we had an eleven game winning streak over the Red Sox at Fenway.

The game didn’t start well. Starter Alex Sanchez started off the game with consecutive walks. Then he got Hall of Famer Wade Boggs to ground out. That was followed by singles from Mike Greenwell and Dwight Evans, scoring a run each and an Ellis Burks home run scoring 3 more. Sanchez would walk another, and that was it for him, leaving the game getting just 1 out and allowing 5 earned, bringing his ERA to 7.36. It was be his last start for the Jays. He made a relief appearance, a few days later, giving up 4 runs, while getting just 2 outs and that was the end of his MLB career.

Xavier Hernandez came in and he wasn’t great either, but he ate some innings. He pitched 6.2 innings, allowed 8 hits, 5 runs, 2 earned, 3 walks and 2 strikeouts. Hernandez was a rookie. He pitched 22.2 innings for the Jays and was lost to the Astros in the Rule 5 draft after the season. He ended up playing 10 seasons in the MLB, pitching in 463 games (273 with the Astros), all but 7 in relief. He had a 3.90 ERA, a 40-35 record and 35 saves.

Anyway, by the end of the 6th inning, we were behind 10-0.

The comeback started in the 7th:

We scored 2 in the 7th, consecutive walks to Lloyd Moseby, Ernie Whitt and Rance Mulliniks loaded the bases. Nelson Liriano would hit into a double play, scoring our first run. Nelson turned 25 the day before and was having his best season in the majors, he hit .263/.331/.376 with 5 home runs that season and finished with a 2.8 bWAR, easily his career best (his next best number was a 0.9).

And Junior Felix hit a ground rule double to score our second run. Felix was a 21-year-old rookie. He was our leadoff hitter, that day, and, at the end of the day, his hitting line was .291/.333/473. He went downhill from there, finishing the season with a .258/.315/.395 line, 9 home runs, 18 steals (12 times caught) in 110 games. Playing mostly right field (Jesse Barfield was traded to the Yankees for Al Leiter at the end of April).

It was 10-2 Red Sox at the end of the 7th.

In the 8th:

We had 1-out singles from George Bell, Fred McGriff and Moesby, to score our 3rd and 4th runs. An out later, Mulliniks doubled home another run. And Liriano singled in one more.

Bell and McGriff would both have great seasons. Bell wasn’t hitting great at the time, he finished the game with a .260/.305/.429 line, but by season end he was hitting .298/.330/.458 with 18 home runs (his lowest home run total in any full season he played with the Jays) and 104 ERA. Bell finished 4th in MVP voting. Bell was 29 and was playing in his second last season as a Blue Jay. He played like a much older player, his knees were shot from playing several seasons on the thinly carpeted concrete of Skydome. It really was too bad, it would be interesting to know what his career would have been like had he played on the better tuft we have now.

McGriff was 25, playing his 3rd full season with the Jays. He was hitting .295/.391/.565 after the game. On the season he hit .269/.399/.525 with 35 home runs and 88 RBI, finishing 6th in the MVP vote. Voters really liked the RBI back in those days. No way would Bell get more MVP votes with those numbers today. McGriff got complaints for not driving in enough runs, but then he hit behind Bell a lot, and Bell didn’t get on base great. McGriff would be part of the big trade that brought us Carter and Alomar after the 1990 season and would drive in 100 runs 8 times in his career after that.

In the bottom of the inning, Tom Henke came in to pitch. It seems kind of strange to bring in your closer, down by 4 in the 8th. I thought it must have been because Tom han’t pitched for a few days, but no, he pitched the day before. Tom gave up a hit and a walk, to start the 8th, but the Red Sox bunted them to 2nd and 3rd and then had a pop out and a fly out. I generally figure if a pitcher comes into a game and the first two get on, don’t give him a free out to help him out.

It was 10-6 Red Sox at the end of the 8th.

In the 9th:

Tony Fernandez started off the inning taking a walk and, after, the Red Sox brought in their closer Lee Smith. Not that it was a save situation at this point. Smith would walk Kelly Gruber. Gruber had a nice season, hitting .290/.328/.448 with 18 home runs and he made the All-Star game. The next year was what I’ve always thought of as his ‘good’ year. He hit 31 home runs (the only season he had above 20) and 118 RBI, winning a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. Another of the ‘what if’ guys, what if he could have stayed healthy.

Bell would follow with a double, making it a 3-run game and bringing the tying run to the plate. After McGriff struck out, Lloyd Moesby walked to load the bases and Ernie Whitt homered to empty the bases.

Ernie Whitt was one of my very favorites. He had this all or nothing left-handed swing. He often finished the swing with his left knee touching the ground. Looking back, I’m sure Cito Gaston had something to do with his all-pull swing. In 1989 Whitt was 37, playing his last season with the Jays. He hit .262/.349/.416 with 11 home runs, sharing the catching duties with Pat Borders (Buck Martinez had the career ending injury in 1986). 1989 was Whitt’s last of a string of 5 with a bWAR in the mid-2s.

Mulliniks followed the homer with a walk but we couldn’t score his pinch runner Tom Lawless.

We were up 11-10 going into the bottom of the 9th.

Unfortunately, the Red Sox got the run back. Henke walked Nick Esasky to start the inning. A bunt and a Jody Reed single tied the game. Reed was a pretty good middle infielder, he hit .288/.380/.393 that season, bouncing back and forth between short and second. Henke got a ground out, moving Reed to second and then we intentionally walked Wade Boggs and took Henke out of the game for David Wells. I really liked the idea of having the pitcher we were going to take out of the game do the IW, and let the guy coming in focus on the straight zone. Nice move by our new manager Cito Gaston. Wells got the last out of the inning.

Wells was in his second full season with the Jays. Back in the day we liked bringing up young guys to pitch out of the pen. The feeling was that rookies learned to get players out in a slightly less intense role than starter. In 1990 Wells transitioned into a starting role. He would go on to have a very good 21-year MLB career. I kind of wish we still did that.

The 9th inning ended tied at 10.

10th inning:

Dennis Lamp pitched a 3-up, 3-down inning for the Red Sox.

Duane Ward came in for the bottom of the inning (Wells would face just 1 batter). He gave up a leadoff walk to Randy Kutcher (one of those names that I don’t remember at all, apparently he was a utility player, had a 5 year career in the majors). The Red Sox bunted him to second but couldn’t score him. If you are keeping score, the Sox put down 3 sac bunts, all successful, and scored 1 run off them. I’d imagine the Red Sox haven’t had 3 sac bunts in a single game in years (well, maybe in a game played with NL rules). We would put down one sac bunt, and that’s yet to come.

10th inning ends still tied at 10.

11th inning:

Lamp has another quick 3-up, 3-down inning. He only threw 7 pitchers to get McGriff, Moseby and Whitt.

Ward also had a quick 3-up, 3-down inning, throwing 15 pitches.

11 inning ends still tied at 10.

12th inning:

Tom Lawless, who pitch ran for Mulliniks, back in the 9th inning. leads off with a walk. Lawless was in year 7 of a 8 year major league career. He was a utility player. He played 5 positions (6 if you count DH) for us that year, including an inning at catcher. He hit .229/.295/.243 for us. He came into 26 games as a pinch runner that year. I’ll admit, one of the things I miss the most, back from the days where we didn’t feel we needed to carry 8 or 9 relievers, is pinch runners. Lawless stole 12 bases that year (one earlier in this game).

Nelson Liriano bunted him to second. He put down 5 bunts that season. Cito wasn’t a fan of the bunt, even back in those days. Maybe the thing I liked best about him.

Felix followed that with a home run (my favorite kind of small ball), his 4th of the season. Lamp got the next two batters to get out of the inning but, as they say, the damage was down.

Lamp was 36 that season, he pitch in 42 games, with a 2.32 ERA, in 112.1 innings. He had a very nice 16 year career, 3 of them with the Blue Jays. His big season, with the Jays, was 1985, when he made 53 appearances, starting 1 game, and had a 11-0 record. He received MVP votes that season. No Cy Young votes, but MVP votes.

Duane Ward had another nice quick bottom of the 11th, and got the win. Ward threw 3 scoreless innings. He would pitch 3 or more innings 8 time that season. He was very good, putting up a 3.77 ERA in 66 games, 114.2 innings. He had 15 saves.

He pitched 9 seasons with the Jays, had a 3.18 ERA in 452 games, 2 starts. He had 121 saves, number 2 on our all-time list for saves. In 1993 Tom Henke left as a free agent and Ward took the closer role, picking up 45 saves, still our club record.

The win would bring our record to 23-31, putting us 6th in the AL East, 8 games back of the Orioles. We would go 66-42 the rest of the way and finish first. We would have another series in Fenway in August and swept that 3 game series. Giving us 14 straight wins at Fenway (we would lose our first game of 1990 at Fenway, ending the streak).

The Red Sox dropped to 24-27. They would finish 3rd, at 83-79. 6 games back of the Jays. The Jays 6-0 record helped out a bunch.

It holds a place as one of my favorite baseball games of all time.