TORONTO — They were dragged to the firing line, both of them. Thrown to their knees. Hands tied behind their backs. Black masks were lowered over their eyes. Last cigarettes were lit.

Seven games, amigos.

Now one team must die.

Toronto. Kansas City. They’d had their chances to prove a clear superiority in these AL playoffs, to prove that one didn’t even belong in the same cell as the other. Instead they could only show that on Monday, one team would win, and on Tuesday, the other, Wednesday, the other, Thursday, the other. We could go on forever like this.

Time was up. The rifles were loaded. Execution would be shortly before midnight, in the wind-whipped chill of Exhibition Stadium. And the teams, tied 3-3 in games, could only do what they’d been doing all along — send up the best pitcher available, try to hit smartly — and pray that theirs was not the name on the fatal bullet.

The crowd was frenzied as the two teams took the field Wednesday night. The noise roared so, it felt as if your ears were pinned to the floor of the ocean.

The people knew. They knew.

One team must die tonight. Sunny supplied the bullet

What happened? As it turned out, you could have lined up all the information on these teams and set a match to it.

For this game was essentially decided on a single, unpredictable swing, a soaring triple off the bat of Royals’ catcher Jim Sundberg (who’d been hitting .100 in this series) that actually bounced off the top off the right field fence — he couldn’t do that again in 1,000 at bats — and drove in three Kansas City base runners.

Before the triple, it had been 2-1 Royals, and there was the sense that the Blue Jays were just waiting until the perfect moment to strike. But with Sundberg’s triple — off of Toronto ace Dave Stieb, the hit that would send him home for the season — the air went out of the Blue Jays’ balloon. You could almost hear the gush. And the cock of the rifle.

The Jays had come so far from their days as a pitiful expansion team nine years ago. They had needed only one victory in two games to be the first Canadian team to ever grace the World Series. “OK,” the fans seemed to say,
“enough torture. Let us go.”

The Blue Jays obliged, going down barely a whimper. Final score, 6-2. The execution rite that had begun with such pandemonium ended with a profound silence.

The wrong guy had died. Lady Fortune jilted Jays

What can you say of the winners? Undeniably, this ranks as one of the gutsiest comebacks in recent baseball history — if only because the Royals don’t have all that much to come back with. They are mostly a team of strong pitching, with a batting order that, minus George Brett and a few others, is notable only because it’s so average.

Yet down three games to one, their players actually played better, including their weaker ones. Shortstop Buddy Biancalana, hitting .188 this season, helped them win Game 6 with a key double. And Sundberg would equal one-ninth of his entire year’s RBI total in the seventh game alone. Only four teams in major league history have ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in post- season play. That tells you how magnificent was Kansas City’s performance.

And for the Blue Jays? All year they’d been winning the games they had to, just the way they had to. Talent was spread across their lineup like a light smear of cream cheese across toast. They lacked a single statistical superstar — no .300 hitter, no 20 game-winning pitcher — but they had a bee’s nest full of good players and besides, they’d been snuggling with Lady Fortune all season, which is better than all the numbers in the world. She gave them the hits when they needed them, the big pitch when it would save them. Only on this night of nights, when the clock struck 12, she had disappeared, slipped off in the moonlight to join the brave men of Kansas City, with whom she will now ride into the World Series.

A choke? No. That’s not fair. The Blue Jays won three. The Royals won four. The team simply ran out of magic.But as a Toronto player put it, “If we can’t win one game out of two at home, we don’t deserve to be in the World Series.”

They got what they deserved.

The showdown was over. Night turned to dawn. Toronto was a deflated heap, dead in the sand, inches from glory. Kansas City rode off, scarred but not wounded, the survivor, the bullet- dodger, headed down fortune’s trail to the nearing lights of the World Series.

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