TORONTO — Where was it? It had to be there. Somewhere. Maybe there, behind the blackboard. Yep. Found it.
Champagne. Canadian champagne.
“WE’RE CHAMPIONS!” hollered Willie Upshaw.
“WE’RE CHAMPIONS!” shouted Lloyd Moseby.
Got it. They got it. The American League East was theirs — one day before the season, one day before the blade reached their necks, one day before the choke that people were predicting at the hands of the New York Yankees. The game was over, 5-1, favor of the home team. Got it. They got it.
The team. The town. The country.
O Canada. Hey hO Canada.
Toronto Blue Jays. Division champions.
Pop! Spritz! It’s never over until . . .
It hadn’t been easy. It hadn’t been quick. Andthe first Canadian team ever to win a full-season division title in major league baseball really wasn’t sure it had it until George Bell caught Ron Hassey’s fly ball in the ninth and fell to his knees.
He’s out. Inning’s over.
Ipso factO Canada.
It had come down to this final series in October, the next- to-the-last game of the season, and how fitting a scene for Canada’s title. Damn near wintertime up here. The clouds were dark and enormous. It was cold. Blustery. The wind flapped the umpires’ pants as if they were hung on a line in a wind tunnel.
It was a message from Mother Nature: This is no place for ordinary baseball, guys. This had better be good.
It was good. For the Blue Jays anyhow. The night before they had been one out away from clinching it all and had blown it in the ninth.
Suddenly, nothing was certain. Their lead over New York was down to two games. “The Yankees can do almost anything,” people whispered.
Except leave the stadium.
So that’s where the Blue Jays put the ball. Out. Over the fence. Three times. Home run. Home run. Home run. Whatcha gonna do now, Yankees? Play in the parking lot?
It was 1-0. Then 4-0. Then 5-1. They kept pounding it out. Until even the most fervent Yankees fan had to realize that this was meant to be. The signs were so obvious:
Moseby, the goat who dropped the ball the night before, becoming a hero Saturday by swatting a home run in the third inning.
Doyle Alexander, who stank in New York — there’s no kinder way to put it, he was 1-9 there over two years — on the mound shutting down his former teammates, giving up only one run.
Don Mattingly, Dave Winfield and Hassey — the Yankees’ No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters — making the three final outs of the game. Easy outs.
Over. It was all over. And the Blue Jays were the ones left standing. And cheering. And leaping. And charging toward that Canadian champagne behind the blackboard.
Pop! Spritz! It’s party time in Canada
In the soaked clubhouse, Moseby was showing his pinky finger. He wanted a ring. Alexander was talking to reporters — a rarity — as champagne dripped down his nose and his chin. A red-faced ballboy, who couldn’t have been more than 10, had a beer in his hands, though he wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.
“Me and Damaso (Garcia), we said this is the year!” Bell screamed. Then someone drowned him in fluid.
“AWWWRIGHT!” bellowed Tony Fernandez. Then someone clunked him on the head with a bottle.
Celebration. Jubilation. Canadian Club Glee. They’re cheering here. They’re hollering in Calgary. They’re toasting in Newfoundland.
Across a customs line, under a maple leaf flag, in a land where they sing two national anthems, the title had been claimed.
The Toronto Blue Jays did it in the toughest division in baseball. And those in Detroit might recall what it’s like finally to win, when all year long the critics have been saying, “They’ll fade, they’ll fade.”
O Canada. TorontO, Canada.
They got it.