So achingly close. ’87 and ’88 had us juuuuust short of a second playoff appearance. in ’87 it was losing Tony Fernandez to a broken arm and a 7 game losing streak at the end of the season to lose the pennant to Detroit. In ’88 we barely missed the playoffs (by 2 games). So it is expected that 1989 would be a year in which we tallied up our mistakes, bore down and went for another division title. Unfortunately, after 36 games and a 12-24 record the season appeared lost. Then came one of the masterstrokes that would begin our five year reign as one of the top teams in baseball…Jimy “One M” got sacked and they promoted a man who had been with the organization for years. Mild mannered, respected as a player and as a hitting instructor. Please welcome Mr. Cito Gaston as the rudder for our playoff bound ship. They would whoop the Orioles in back-to-back games at the end of the season to clinch our second AL East Pennant! George Bell‘s 104 RBI cemented his status as a great run producer and 36 knocks solidified Fred McGriff as a true power hitter (Hall of Fame worthy but I digress). Oh and did I mention finally playing in some world class digs as the SkyDome opened as a true architectural wonder (at the time).
Date: April 14, 1989
Location: Exhibition Stadium, Toronto, ON, Canada
Game: Kansas City Royals vs. YOUR Toronto Blue Jays
Weather: 9C and chilly…the last time this would ever be a factor in a home game…oh wait……
We have had the hitting and for a while and now the team pitching was truly top notch. Jimmy Key started the last Home Opener at Exhibition Stadium against a very tough customer in Charlie Liebrandt. It was a great pitchers duel in a hitters park and Key asserted himself as a true ace with a 9 inning, 2 hit, 8 strikeout, no walk game. Truly one of the best pitching performances ever by a Jays pitcher and the best Home Opener line ever in the history of the team (IMO).
Liebrandt was every bit as deadly as he only gave up 2 runs over 7 innings. Alas, he also gave up 3 hits to McGriff and Kelly Gruber, with the RBI’s doled out to Bell and Nelson Liriano, who had 2…yes Nelson Liriano…seriously. The season featured many highlights such as Kelly Gruber hitting for the first cycle in Blue Jays history. Junior Felix introduced himself with a homer in his first MLB at bat, the 69th Major Leaguer to do so up to that point. Exhibition Stadium was bid a fond farewell with a 7-5 10 inning win over the Chicago White Sox (who were also the first opponent the Jays ever faced at the stadium). On June 5, The Blue Jays play their first game in the SkyDome, a 5-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. August 4, Dave Stieb comes one out away from pitching a perfect game (damn you Roberto Kelly!).
We would lose to the Oakland A’s in the ALCS but the roots were taking hold. How would 1990 treat us?