Unser doubled Quisenberry in the eighth inning of a Game 2 win, hit him again in a Game 4 loss, then delivered the biggest hit of the series: a brace on the first base line to tie Game 5 in the ninth. The Phillies stole that game and won the series in six.
The pinch was in Unser’s genes; with the Tigers in 1944, his father, Al, hit a grand slam to beat the Yankees in the bottom of the ninth. Sprague also had a big-league father — Ed Sr., a pitcher — and knew the high stakes: He twice won the College World Series at Stanford and Olympic gold for the United States in 1988.
But while Unser’s heroics achieved his goal of mastering life on the bench, Sprague helped him escape that fate. The Blue Jays had grown suspicious of him as the third baseman of the future and told him to try catching in Triple-A. He spent most of the season there in 1992, hitting just 50 times for Toronto, including one home run.
An afterthought on the World Series roster against Atlanta, Sprague came at bat with a block and an out in the ninth inning of Game 2. The Braves had Jeff Reardon — then baseball’s career saves leader — on the mound , and Sprague consulted a teammate, Rance Mulliniks, who had often faced Reardon.
He’ll try to get you to chase a high fastball, Mulliniks told Sprague, so make sure you get him down in the zone. Sprague considered making a move but thought better of it. He would chase the low fastball and belt the first one he saw. A double play would have ended the game and sent the Blue Jays to Toronto down an 0-2 hole, but Sprague felt oddly calm.
“It was probably one of the most relaxed shots I’ve ever had in my career, one that was completely in the moment,” he says. “You think of the movie ‘For Love of the Game’ – erase the mechanism.”
Sprague freed his mind to put his plan into action. He got a first-pitch fastball down the middle, just below the belt, and hammered it into the left-field seats, above a sign marking the spot of Hank’s record-breaking 715th home run. Aaron. The Blue Jays won, 5-4, and after taking the title in six, Sprague got something better than a ring: a job in the starting lineup.
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