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Today in Blue Jays history: Jays clinch first playoff appearance

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles
Doyle Alexander
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

36 Years Ago Today

On October 5th, 1986, the Blue Jays beat the Yankees 5-1 to clinch first place, making it to the playoffs for the first time. Game 160, the win pushed us to 99-61 (we’d finish 99-62), moving to 3 games ahead of the Yankees.

The star of the game was Doyle Alexander. Doyle pitched a complete game, giving up just five hits and one run. He didn’t get a strikeout all game. I wonder how many games there were this season where a team didn’t strike out at all? A quick Baseball Reference search shows there hasn’t been a game where a team hasn’t struck out since September 7th, 2017, when the Twins couldn’t get a strikeout against the Royals.

The lone Yankees’ run came in the fourth inning. The Jays were already up 4-0 at the time. Ken Griffey (Sr.) led off the inning with a double, moved to third on Don Mattingly’s ground out, and scored on a Dave Winfield single.

On the offensive side, we managed 12 hits and 5 runs off the Yankees’ pitching.

We scored:

  • One in the second: Ernie Whitt (his 19th of the season) homered off Yankees’ starter Joe Crowley.
  • Three in the third: Lloyd Moesby (18th) and Willie Upshaw (15th) went back-to-back to end Crowley’s night. Bob Shirley came in for the Yankees and gave up an Al Oliver double and a Garth Iorg (pinch-hitting for Rance Mulliniks) singled. Out went Shirley, in came Rich Bordi, who gave up a sac fly to George Bell.
  • One in the fourth: Tony Fernandez doubled and scored on a Damaso Garcia single.

Upshaw, Fernandez, and Iorg had two hits each. Moesby had the home run, two walks, and a stolen base. Bell was the only Jay to play the full game and not get a hit, but he had the sac fly (bringing him to 95 RBI on the season).

I’m sure you have seen the clip of Bell catching the last out, a fly ball to left, and then falling to his knees. I remember him making that catch. It was pretty amazing. The season before, we were 17 games out of first.

It was just the Jays 9th season. We spent the first 5 of those in last place. We worked our way to second last in 1982. We went on a run of 11 straight seasons with a better than .500 record. Those were the good old days.

Jays of the Day were Alexander (.287 WPA), Moesby (.145), and Whitt (.084). Our defense should earn one too, having made all 27 outs without an error.

Here’s the moment:

That Jays team featured several of the best players in franchise history:

  • We had the best outfield in the league with Bell, Moseby and Barfield. All three were 25, and, at that time, all three were good defensive players. It would be a few more years before playing on the thinly carpeted concrete at Exhibition Stadium would ruin Bell’s knees and cut his range in left to, roughly, what he could reach from where he stood (he even stole 21 bases that year, caught 6 times). Bell finished 8th in MVP voting and won the Silver Slugger award. He also played a handful of innings at third base, something I had forgotten. Moesby hit .259/.345/.426, with 18 home runs and 37 stolen bases. Barfield finished 7th in MVP voting, hitting .289/.369/.536, with 27 home runs (22 steals). He also had 22 (!) assists from the outfield (Bell had 13). I can’t imagine why anyone would run against his arm.
  • Whitt hit .245/.323/.444 with 19 home runs. His catching partner, Buck Martinez, didn’t fare as well, hitting .162/.239/.313, playing in his second last season.
  • Fernandez hit .289/.340/.390 and played the smoothest shortstop you could ever see.
  • Mulliniks (..295/.383/.454) and Iorg (.313/.358/.469) had what had to be their best cumulative season sharing third base.
  • Starters Dave Stieb, Jimmy Key, and Alexander were all at the top of their game, winning 45 games between them (and completing 17 games).
  • And it was Tom Henke’s first season with the Jays. He (13 saves), Bill Caudill (14 saves), Jim Acker (10 saves), and Gary Lavelle (8 saves) worked in a bullpen by committee before the term was in use.

The Yankees’ team we beat out for first had three future Hall of Famers: Ricky Henderson, Dave Winfield, and Phil Niekro (his brother Joe made three starts for the team). Henderson would hit .314/.419/.516 with 24 home runs, 80 steals and 146 runs scored.

They also had a guy who most thought was a future Hall of Famer, Don Mattingly. Mattingly hit .342/.371/.367 with 48 doubles, 35 homers, and 145 RBI. He won the AL MVP award and also a Gold Glove.