They are number 2 at their position. Their position is number 2 if you're scoring at home. And if you are scoring at home during the 89th World Series, please do so with a number 2 pencil, because the itinerant backup catcher should never have his name recorded in ink.
The first international Fall Classic opened in Atlanta last Saturday, and the first two games were won on home runs by backup catchers. In Game 1, Damon Berryhill of the American team decided matters with one swing of his Canadian-made bat. In Game 2, Ed Sprague of the Canadian team homered in the presence of his star-spangled wife, U.S. Olympian Kristen Babb-Sprague. Thus, the Atlanta Braves and the Toronto Blue Jays were not only tied at one game apiece as the Series went through customs on Monday for Games 3, 4 and 5 at SkyDome, but the two teams had also blurred their respective national identities.
Of course, there were several reminders that the two franchises came from separate nations. For instance: On a scale of 1 to 10, Toronto leftfielder Joe Carter rated the Jays' scintillating 5-4 win in Sunday night's Game 2 as "an 11½." Thus, when you take into account the U.S.-Canadian exchange rate, this meant the game was worth a 10 in the States.
In the second inning of that game, Major League Baseball issued a statement apologizing "to the people of Canada and to all baseball fans" after a U.S. Marine color guard displayed the Canadian flag upside down during the playing of the national anthems. A baseball official said the incident was "wholly unintentional," but others suspected it was intentionally unholy.
"Let's just hope it was a mistake," said Blue Jay manager Cito Gaston. "This is not a battle of two countries."
Precisely. In fact, people should have focused last weekend on all that the two nations share, such as a common border. (And we do not mean the very common Pat Borders, Toronto's starting catcher, who, through Sunday, had thrown out exactly two of the 25 runners attempting to steal on him in the postseason.) Yes, people should have stressed all that is similar between the U.S. and Canada.
For instance: Toronto has the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Atlanta has the Royal Incontinent Mounted Police. Blue Jay executive vice-president Pat Gillick was sniffing around the visitors' dugout on the eve of Game 1 when he noted, "It smells like horses down here."
In their excitement, the mounts that bore police onto the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium field following Game 7 of the National League playoffs had urinated prodigiously near the Jays' dugout and on the Braves' bullpen mound. The latter was deodorized by the Atlanta grounds crew in time for Game 1, but, curiously, the Toronto bench retained its stench as the Series opened on Saturday night.
Quasi-Canadian Tom Glavine, a Massachusetts native who was an NHL draftee out of high school, was the starting pitcher for the Braves. He was trying to recover from a savage one-inning, eight-run outing in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. Many minds suggested that Glavine not open the World Series or that he be removed from the Atlanta rotation entirely. After his Game 6 performance, when Glavine was contrite and unfailingly polite with the press, one radio guy actually asked the 20-game winner, "Tom, how do you not feel like a failure?"
The Blue Jays' starter was Black Jack Morris, 4-0 in five appearances in two different World Series, who seemed very cool as he warmed up in chilly Atlanta. It was not shirtsleeve weather, to be sure, which only semantically explains why singer Billy Ray Cyrus wore a sleeveless, Ted Kluszewski-like T-shirt while following up stage actor Michael Burgess's rendition of O Canada with a stylized version of The Star-Spangled Banner. Baseball's first international World Series finally began at 8:32 on Saturday night in—as they like to say in these parts—the land of the free and the home of the Braves.
Of course, the action, if you can call it that, didn't begin until the top of the fourth, when Carter hit a solo home run for the Blue Jays. It appeared to be an important blow, as Glavine would give up only four hits to Toronto and Morris would give up only four to Atlanta. That would be all that either team was afforded. However, the Braves got three of their knocks in the sixth inning, putting two runners on when number-seven hitter and backup catcher Damon Berryhill came to bat with two outs.
Berryhill is not exactly a backup catcher, having started for Atlanta since Sept. 19, the day after the Braves' regular catcher, Greg Olson, fractured his right fibula and tore ligaments in his ankle while on the wrong end of a collision at home plate. "It took an injury to [former Brave catcher] Mike Heath for Greg to shine," Lisa (Mrs. Greg) Olson told Ann (Mrs. Damon) Berryhill at the time. "I hope Damon shines the same way."
And on a 1-and-2 pitch in his first World Series game, Damon did. From the left side of the plate, the switch-hitting Berryhill drove a Morris forkball over the rightfield fence for a 3-1 Atlanta lead that would soon become the final score.
Berryhill hit (rather, didn't miss) the game-winner with a 32-inch, 34-ounce Cooper bat manufactured in Canada. As if this isn't internationally incestuous enough, the 28-year-old Berryhill mentioned that he'll spend the off-season, as he does every year, surfin' U.S.A. In fact, he healed himself after career-threatening rotator-cuff surgery in 1989 by paddling through the surf near his native Laguna Niguel, Calif., on his beloved board. "A Bulkley Tri-Fin 6'6"," he said proudly, if a bit inscrutably (at least to landlocked Atlantans). And was there a surfing equivalent for this evening's proceedings? "There is the perfect wave," said Berryhill, who had found his thrill, "but that's not tonight. Tonight was better."
Soon a disembodied voice came, Ozlike, from behind a closed door in the Atlanta clubhouse. The unidentified voice could be heard to say: "Don't go out there, Tom. Don't say a word to them." But Glavine did emerge eventually, this time, however, not allowing himself to be sound-bitten by the rabid media jackals. Glavine gloated, instead, about his first complete game since July 3, and well he should have. "The more negative things we hear, the better it makes us," he said of the Atlanta starting pitching staff. "It's tiresome reading that stuff. Steve [Avery] is tired of it, too. People forget I won 20 games this year. After Game 6 I didn't hide. I said I stunk.... I didn't have any questions about myself, but tonight I answered a lot of questions for people around here." Glavine stopped short of telling the TV crews and reporters surrounding him what, exactly, they could do with their boom mikes and notepads, but the message was clear: Outta my sight till tomorrow night.
As baseball has no commissioner, the World Series baseballs have no signature, though Sunday night's spectators for Game 2 did include de facto commish Bud (Molehill) Selig, so nicknamed because he's no Kenesaw Mountain Landis.
On the field, Toronto hitting coach Gene Tenace threw batting practice. He prefaced his final BP pitch to Sprague by telling him to imagine the following situation: Two outs in the ninth with runners on and the Blue Jays down. And then Tenace threw a batting-practice fastball that Sprague popped up, the ball dying on the outfield grass.
Sunday's home plate umpire was Mike Reilly, who works for Kellogg's in Battle Creek, Mich., in the off-season, and Game 2 figured to be Special K night in Atlanta, what with National League strikeout leader John Smoltz pitching for the Braves and major league strikeout leader David Cone going for the Blue Jays.
As billed, Smoltz struck out five of the first six Toronto batters he faced. Yet despite Blue Jay reliever David Wells's wearing a talismanic rubber Conehead on the visitors' bench, Cone gave up four runs in just 4‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings. He couldn't whiff anything—anything, that is, except a certain equine scent with which the Jays were by now all too familiar.
With two out and Roberto Alomar on third base in Toronto's half of the fourth inning, Smoltz threw a wild pitch that Berryhill blocked but had to chase. As Alomar came bolting down the line, our Game 1 hero retrieved the ball and threw to Smoltz at the plate a half second too late to get the runner sliding headlong into home. But ump Reilly cereal-killed the Jays' rally, wrongly punching out Alomar to end the inning. The Jays remained scoreless: Nuttin', honey. So when Toronto scored two runs in the fifth and added another in the eighth but still entered the ninth trailing 4-3, Reilly's call was looking larger than a Jack Morris forkball.
When the Blue Jays came to bat for the final time, Kristen Babb-Sprague, who had won a synchronized-swimming gold medal at the Olympics in Barcelona (page 39), was sitting in the stands behind home plate in a denim jacket adorned with an American flag design. Reliever Jeff Reardon, baseball's alltime save leader, was on the mound to salt the game away for Atlanta. "Reardon throws some serious, scary stuff," Babb-Sprague would say later, surprised by her ump's-eye view of the man who would soon be pitching to her husband. "I could not believe how much those balls move."
Truth be told, where the 37-year-old Reardon once threw his fastball in the 90's, it now hovers in the mid-80's. Hardly batting-practice fastballs, but to Sprague, this game was suddenly beginning to resemble the scenario Tenace had posited in BP: The game is on the line, and you have one pitch to hit.
For after Borders led off the ninth by flying out to right and pinch-hitter Derek Bell worked the count from 2 and 2 and walked, Sprague—who had two pinch hits and one home run during the regular season—found himself batting for reliever Duane Ward. He was looking for a first-pitch fastball down in the strike zone. Reardon threw the signature-free Rawlings right there, and Sprague swung.
"I looked up and saw the ball in the air," said Bell, who was running with the pitch. "And I thought, Oh my god, we did it."
Sprague looked up, too, after making contact, but he couldn't see anything save for a blinding white light, the kind that people report seeing during near-death experiences. "I looked up, right into the lights," said Sprague. "I couldn't see a thing. Until I saw [Deion] Sanders with his back turned. And then I knew."
The ball, which landed in the leftfield bleachers, was soon returned to Sprague by the woman who had retrieved it, so he would have a memento.
Reardon wasn't in the market for souvenirs. "I'll try to forget this one," he said in the Braves' clubhouse, moments after Atlanta failed to score in the bottom of the ninth. "But no one really forgets."
The closer then excused himself, making a rapid exit along with the rest of his teammates. Soon only Atlanta coaches Ned Yost (Milwaukee Brewer backup catcher, 1982 World Series) and Pat Corrales (Cincinnati Red backup catcher, '70 World Series), remained in the home clubhouse, wistfully rehashing over a couple of beers the weekend during which backup backstops finally found the foreground.