To explain why this entry in the Unsung Post Season Hero series is so special to me, I need to flash back to my front yard in the early 1980s. As a 10 or 11 year old, I would play out a scenario while throwing a whiffle ball.
In a potential clinching game of the World Series, my team is in extra innings and on the road. We have the lead but the home team is rallying. Out of pitchers, the manager had no choice to go to an unknown young pitcher named Sully to come out and clinch it. With the winning run at the plate and the crowd going crazy, I strikeout the last batter and clinch the World Series.
Everyone mobs the little known pitcher who was the unlikely pitcher who clinched it all.
The memory of that play acting was brought to light about 10 years later with Mike Timlin.
The Blue Jays and the Braves squared off in a thrilling World Series in 1992. The two teams split the first two games in Atlanta before the Blue Jays took a pair of one run games and established a 3-1 lead with 1991 World Series hero Jack Morris taking the mound for Game 5. The Braves beat Morris and sent the series back to the South.
Game 6 was a classic game. The hero of Game 3, Candy Maldonado, homered in the 4th to give the Blue Jays a 2-1 lead. The game turned into a bullpen game as a galaxy of pitching stars threw for Toronto. David Cone, Todd Stottlemyre, David Wells and Duane Ward held the lead.
In the 9th, the Blue Jays handed the ball to star closer Tom Henke who looked to clinch the series and give Canada their first World Series title. In the bullpen, Mark Eichhorn and Mike Timlin, two middle relievers further down the depth chart, figured out how they would celebrate the final pitch.
But the Braves, like they did against the Pirates in the NLCS, rallied. With 2 outs and 2 strikes on Otis Nixon, the Blue Jays were a pitch from the title. Otis Nixon singled home the tying run and suddenly the Blue Jays found themselves in extra innings and had already burned through their best relievers.
In the 10th, Toronto manager Cito Gaston turned to game 4 starter Jimmy Key, who kept the Braves off of the board. In the 11th with 2 outs, Dave Winfield redeemed his previous post season failures with a 2 out, 2 run double and put the Blue Jays back on top.
Key came out to clinch the World Series but got in trouble early. He allowed a lead off single and the next batter reached on an error. The never say die Braves had the winning run at the plate.
Key got a pair of outs but let up a run in the process. Now it was a one run lead and clearly a call to the bullpen was needed. But with their best relievers already used, Gaston turned to Mike Timlin.
The 26 year old Texan had played in the post season the year before but let up a go ahead homer to Minnesota’s Mike Pagliarulo. He had been reduced to a mop up role in the World Series.
Now Timlin found himself in the game. As I watched the game from my dorm room at NYU, I started going crazy. Timlin was enacting my scenario. The Blue Jays had run out of their better known pitchers. Timlin was relatively anonymous. Atlanta Fulton County Stadium was going bananas.
Otis Nixon, who had tied the game in the 9th was at the plate. The tying run, in the form of pinch runner John Smoltz was at third. It was Timlin’s game to save.
On the first pitch, the speedy Nixon dropped a bunt. A perfectly placed bunt with tie the game and put Nixon on as the potential winning run.
Timlin pounced on the ball and threw to first baseman Joe Carter. It was a close play but Timlin got him. My scenario was played to perfection. The unlikely Mike Timlin saved the game and the Blue Jays were World Champions.
But there was a problem in the celebration. The team poured out and mobbed… Joe Carter.
Mike Timlin was on the outside looking in for the scrum. He celebrated to be sure, but he wasn’t the focus on the celebration. Even the photos of the final out focused on Carter jumping up and down and not Timlin. (And to think, it would not even be Carter’s most famous jump at the conclusion of the World Series as a year later his homer would make the Jays back to back champs.)
I always felt for Timlin, or maybe I felt badly for myself. The perfect ending to my scenario was to have the team mob ME. And I felt a connection to Timlin and wanted his reality to match my fantasy.
In the end, Timlin won 4 rings all together. He was part of the 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays and the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox. As a Sox fan, I was thrilled when he joined my team. I had been rooting for him for years.
It was the great final out that should be Mike Timlin’s calling card of greatness and glory. That’s why I declare him the Unsung Post Season Hero of October 24.