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Book Excerpt: The Grandest Stage A History of the World Series


Unser doubled off Quisenberry within the eighth inning of a Game 2 win, singled again off him in a Game 4 loss, then delivered the largest hit within the series: a double down the first-base line to tie Game 5 within the ninth. The Phillies stole that game and took the series in six.

Credit…David Murray Jr./AFP, via Getty Images

Pinch-hitting was in Unser’s genes; with the Tigers in 1944, his father, Al, hit a pinch-hit grand slam to beat the Yankees in the underside of the ninth. Sprague also had a big-league father — Ed Sr., a pitcher — and was accustomed to high stakes: He won the College World Series twice at Stanford and Olympic gold for the USA in 1988.

But while Unser’s heroics fulfilled his goal of mastering life on the bench, Sprague’s helped him escape that fate. The Blue Jays had began to sour on him as their third baseman of the longer term and told him to try catching in Triple-A. He spent a lot of the season there in 1992, coming to bat just 50 times for Toronto, with one home run.

An afterthought on the World Series roster against Atlanta, Sprague got here to bat with one on and one out within the ninth inning of Game 2. The Braves had Jeff Reardon — then baseball’s profession saves leader — on the mound, and Sprague consulted a teammate, Rance Mulliniks, who had faced Reardon often.

He’ll attempt to get you to chase a high fastball, Mulliniks told Sprague, so be certain to get him down within the zone. Sprague considered taking a pitch but thought higher of it. He would hunt the low fastball and belt the primary one he saw. A double play would have ended the sport and sent the Blue Jays back to Toronto in an 0-2 hole, yet Sprague felt strangely calm.

“It was probably one of the crucial relaxed at-bats I ever had in my profession, one which was completely within the moment,” he says. “You consider the movie ‘For Love of the Game’ — clear the mechanism.”

Sprague freed his mind to place his plan into motion. He got a first-pitch fastball down the center, slightly below the belt, and hammered it into the left field seats, over an indication marking the spot of Hank Aaron’s record 715th home run. The Blue Jays won, 5-4, and after they took the title in six, Sprague got something higher than a hoop: a job within the starting lineup.

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