Sunday, May 1, 2011

1996 Yankees vs. 1987 Blue Jays

In 1987, the Toronto Blue Jays led the American League Eastern Division by 4 games with 7 games to go. It was the kind of lead that just doesn't get blown.

The streak started by taking 2 out of 3 at the old Yankee Stadium to, for all intents and purposes, eliminate the Yankees from the race. Then they swept 3 from the Orioles in Baltimore, and took the first 3 of a 4-game set against the 2nd-place Detroit Tigers at Exhibition Stadium. The race was over. The Jays couldn't possibly blow it.

They blew it. The Tigers took the series finale, the Jays then dropped 3 at home to the Milwaukee Brewers (then still in the AL), and then went into Detroit and not only lost 3 straight, but 3 straight 1-run games: 4-3, 2-1 in 12 innings, and 1-0. That finale, in front of 51,000 at Tiger Stadium, was one of the most momentous games in the history of that ancient ballpark, with veteran Frank Tanana outdueling the young Jimmy Key.

The Tigers would go on to lose the AL Championship Series to the Minnesota Twins, who then won the World Series over the St. Louis Cardinals. But the Blue Jays were stigmatized for losing the last 7 games of the season. This, coupled with blowing a 3-games-to-1 lead over the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS 2 years earlier, gave them the nickname "the Blow Jays." They also had to endure close-but-no-cigar Division defeats to the Boston Red Sox in 1988 and 1990 and ALCS losses to the Oakland Athletics in 1989 and the Twins in 1991. They seemed to be cursed, before finally taking it all in 1992, edging the Brewers, beating the A's in the ALCS, and topping the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.

Yesterday, at the new Yankee Stadium, the Jays looked less like their 1992-93 World Champions and more like their 1985-91 Blow Jays. And the Yankees, who looked so much like their 2007 failures on Friday night, looked more like their 1996 edition: Do whatever it takes, however you can, and, as 2nd baseman Mariano Duncan put it that season, "We play today, we win today, das it."

A.J. Burnett got the start for the Yankees, and he wasn't great. He allowed runs in 4 different innings -- but only one in each. The Yankees scored 3 in the 2nd and 2 in the 3rd off Kyle Drabek, son of former Yankee pitcher Doug Drabek, and chased the kid.

That was all they got, as the Toronto bullpen pitched 5 2/3 innings of not just scoreless, not just hitless, but perfect relief. But Joba Chamberlain, Rafael Soriano and Mariano Rivera each pitched a scoreless inning for the Yanks, so it was their bullpen that wrote the story. There would be no peskiness from the Jays on this day.

Yankees 5, Blue Jays 4. WP: Burnett (4-1). SV: Rivera (9). LP: Drabek (2-1).

The Yankees are now a strong 15-9, but this was the first time this season the Yankees won a game without hitting a home run. Mark Teixeira doubled for the team's only extra-base hit, and, in true '96 Yanks fashion, the 5 runs were driven in by 5 different players: Russell Martin, Derek Jeter (on a sacrifice fly, not a hit), Curtis Granderson, Eric Chavez and Brett Gardner.

This afternoon will be the series finale, with Ivan Nova going against Jesse Litsch.

Jeter 2949 51
Rivera 568 334
A-Rod 618 145
Magic Number 135 (to eliminate Rays & O's, 133 for Jays, 132 for Scum)

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