Prognosticators had their finest hour in 14 years as three of the four defending division champions won again in the 1992 baseball season. Only the Minnesota Twins stumbled, ceding the American League West crown to Oakland. The A's return to the top after a year's absence was all that kept 1992 from being a reprise of 1978, when all four division winners repeated.
If the four pennant races offered no surprises in 1992, the battles for individual honors were for the most part waged by unexpected combatants. In the American League, Rangers outfielder Juan Gonzalez, still short of his 22nd birthday, snared the home run crown with 43 dingers. Edgar Martinez of Seattle emerged to lead the major league with a .343 average, while Texas' Kevin Brown, 9-12 in 1991, shared the American League lead in wins with 21.
Several of the National League's individual champs also caused eyes to blink. Gary Sheffield, a .194 hitter in 1991 with Milwaukee, benefited so much from a change of scenery after he was dealt to San Diego that he won the National League hitting title with a .330 mark. The senior loop's RBI crown went to an equally stunning overachiever, Phillies catcher Darren Daulton. A career .222 hitter, Daulton crushed National League hurlers for 27 homers and 109 RBI in 1992.
As Daulton, Sheffield, Martinez, and numerous other players burst forth with unforeseen great seasons in 1992, several longtime stalwarts fizzled, costing their teams dearly. Receiving little offensive help from Cal Ripken, Baltimore was unable to catch Toronto, which often during the season seemed ripe for the taking. Wade Boggs's plummeting batting average, which bottomed out at .259, paralleled Boston's drop through the American League East until the Sox wound up in the division basement. The 1991 National League home run and RBI champ, Howard Johnson, staggered after the Mets moved him to center field, tallying just 43 runs and seven homers. Injuries slowed Darryl Strawberry and Eric Davis, LA's prize off-season pickups, leading to the franchise's first cellar finish since 1905.
Atlanta and Pittsburgh again required seven games to settle National League honors. With the Pirates ahead 2-1 and just one out away from claiming the pennant in the LCS finale, Steel City fans were poised to celebrate their team's first World Series appearance in 13 years. Instead, little-used backup catcher Francisco Cabrera lined a two-run pinch single off reliever Stan Belinda to hand Atlanta a 3-2 triumph.
Cito Gaston's Toronto club needed no last-gasp heroics to dust favored Oakland in the ALCS. Led by second sacker Roberto Alomar, the LCS MVP and the club's leading batsman (.310 average) during the regular season, the Blue Jays, arguably the best major league team for the past decade, at long last proved they could win the big one. After dropping the A's in six games, Toronto used Alomar, Joe Carter (119 RBI), Dave Winfield (108 RBI), and the hot bat of catcher Pat Borders to suppress the Braves likewise in six contests.
Despite suffering its second straight World Series defeat, Atlanta demonstrated that its 1991 rise from worst to first was no fluke. With repeat 20-game-winner Tom Glavine again the mound linchpin and defending batting champ Terry Pendleton (.311) and Deion Sanders (.304) providing the firepower, Bobby Cox's club topped the major league with 98 victories.
But in the end 1992 belonged to one of the game's steadiest performers for many years, Dave Winfield, who was the active leader in both home runs and RBI that season. Winfield set several season marks for a player over age 40 and then avenged an abysmal showing in the 1981 fall classic, his only previous World Series appearance. It was Winfield's hit that won game six, the uphill 11-inning thriller that made Toronto the first world championship team from outside the United States.
The next page provides headlines and summaries of some of the top stories of the 1992 baseball season.
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