Jays Miscellanea looks back at a bunch of people you may or may not recall who played for the Toronto Blue Jays. Let’s remember some guys!


So, why exactly am I dedicating an entire post to Francisco Cabrera, a little-used backup catcher/first baseman who only made 374 career plate appearances over five seasons, racking up a meagre 0.5 WAR? There’s only one reason, and it has very little to do with the Blue Jays. It has everything to do with Atlanta’s return to the top of the baseball heap in 1992, and a continued run of dominance in the National League that lasted until 2006.


But let’s start at the beginning. Cabrera signed with the Blue Jays as an amateur free agent out of his native Dominican Republic in 1985. He made his major league debut four years later with Toronto, appearing in three games, amassing two hits and one walk over thirteen plate appearances. In August, he was traded to Atlanta with Tony Castillo in exchange for Jim Acker, a veteran pitcher returning for his second stint with the Blue Jays. Cabrera stayed in Atlanta until 1993, at which point he was released at the age of 26. Cabrera was never more than a backup, topping out at seventy games played in 1993, but none of that matters to the history books. All that matters is one at-bat in Atlanta on October 14, 1992.


The 1992 National League Championship Series came down to a deciding seventh game between Atlanta and Pittsburgh. The Pirates juggernaut of the early 1990s was in its third consecutive NLCS, and Atlanta, having gone worst-to-first the year before, was in the NLCS for the second year in a row. This deciding seventh game pitted former Cy Young winner Doug Drabek of the Pirates against Atlanta’s John Smoltz. Pittsburgh got out to an early 2-0 lead, which held until the bottom of the 9th inning. Drabek came out to start the ninth, eyeing a heroic complete game shutout to finally put the Pirates into the World Series for the first time since 1979.


Terry Pendleton led off with a double. An error by sure-handed second baseman José Lind on David Justice’s ground ball put runners at first and second, followed by a walk to Sid Bream to load the bases. Stan Belinda was summoned from the bullpen to relieve Drabek in the horrendous bases-loaded, no-out scenario. Ron Gant followed with a sacrifice fly to halve Pittsburgh’s lead, 2-1. A walk to Damon Berryhill reloaded the bases, but pinch-hitter Brian Hunter popped out to second, putting Pittsburgh on the precipice of a World Series berth. Atlanta’s pitcher’s spot was due up next, so Bobby Cox was forced to send up our hero, light hitting backup catcher Francisco Cabrera.


This would be Cabrera’s second at-bat in the entire series, his third career postseason at-bat. He had appeared in only twelve games all season, going 3 for 10 at the plate. He took a slider outside, a fastball up and away, then lashed a 2-0 fastball foul down the third base line. The next pitch was punched sharply into left field. David Justice scored easily to tie the game, and former Pirate Sid Bream, running on bad knees, representing the winning run, lumbered around third, in a foot race with Barry Bonds’  throw from left field. Catcher Mike LaValliere fielded the throw just up the first base line and lunged for Bream at the plate, cleats and glove arriving simultaneously. Homeplate umpire John McSherry signalled safe, Atlanta erupted, and Cabrera’s name was instantly added to the pantheon of baseball heroes.


Watching this back recently, it’s funny and somehow fitting that this moment is remembered more readily as a heroic Sid Bream accomplishment. CBS broadcaster Sean McDonough’s memorable call  “Bream to the plate and he is…SAFE. Safe at the plate!” accompanies the instantaneous dog-piling on Bream. It takes a while before the camera finds Cabrera, un-piled upon, hi-fiving and hugging; the little-used backup catcher, even in his most valiant moment, will forever be just on the periphery of the spotlight. Of course, Atlanta went on to lose the 1992 World Series to Cabrera’s former team in six games.
I just love learning about obscure, little-known, or unheard-of players achieving greatness in big moments. Baseball is absolutely teeming with these characters and story arcs. Though his career in Toronto was short-lived and nondescript, Francisco Cabrera’s most stirring chapter may never have been written without the Blue Jays.