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Ferguson: From outdoors to indoors - 25 years ago

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Scott Ferguson
12/16/2013 12:13:44 PM
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May 28 will mark the 25th anniversary of the final game the Blue Jays ever played at Exhibition Stadium and there really couldn't have been a more dramatic finish to that first chapter in Blue Jays history.

There were 46,120 on hand to watch the Blue Jays play the Chicago White Sox, the same team they defeated on that snowy day in April of 1977 in the first Major League game ever played in Toronto.

Things got a little dicey in the top of the eighth when Chicago scored three runs off Dave Stieb and Duane Ward to tie the score at five and ultimately send the game into extra innings.

In the bottom of the 10th, with nobody out, George Bell slugged a game winning two-run homer off Bobby Thigpen that touched off a wild celebration and brought down the curtain on the Exhibition Stadium era of Blue Jays Baseball. Tom Henke got the victory with 1 1/3 innings of relief including three strikeouts and Kelly Gruber went 4-for-4 with an RBI.

What many may forget is that after that victory, the Blue Jays record was only 20-28. Granted, they were 8-4 since Cito Gaston replaced the fired Jimy Williams, but the Jays still had a long way to come back to get into the playoff race.

After that pulse pounding win to close the Ex, the Jays went on a six-game road swing through Cleveland and Boston.

The Jays were swept at Cleveland to fall back to 20-31, just one loss shy of where they were at 12 under when Williams was cut loose.

Then the season began to turn. They swept the Red Sox, including a wild 13-11, 12-inning victory in the finale. Ernie Whitt slugging a grand slam in the top of the ninth off Lee Smith as part of a five-run rally that put the Jays ahead 11-10, but Boston clawed back with a run off Henke in the bottom of the ninth that sent the game into extras. Then in the top of the 12th, Junior Felix belted what proved to be the game-winning two run shot off  Dennis Lamp. Duane Ward getting the victory with three near-perfect innings of relief, including three strikeouts.

That win came on Sunday, June 4, the day after the official gala opening Ceremony at SkyDome. The Blue Jays went right home to get ready for their first ever game at their new home on June 5 against Milwaukee.

Unfortunately this one didn't have the happy ending for Blue Jays fans. The Brewers won 5-3. The story though, was the magnificent, awe-inspiring structure that was SkyDome - complete with a fully retractable roof and the sellout crowd of 48,378 who paid more attention to the building than the game at times.

Fred McGriff hit the first home run ever at SkyDome - a two-run shot off Don August in the second inning and Jimmy Key pitched the 1st complete game, giving up five runs on nine hits to fall to 6-4.

The Jays didn't fair any better the second night. The bullpen combo of David Wells and Duane Ward gave up five runs over the final two innings to spoil an excellent seven-inning outing from starter Frank Wills. The Brewers winning again 6-4.

Finally in the series finale, the Blue Jays finally christened SkyDome with a victory. The late John Cerutti went all the way on an 11-hitter, if you can believe it. In fact, he had a shutout going until Rob Deer touched him for a two-run homer in the top of the ninth. Cerutti closed it out though, and the Jays won 4-2. Cerutti didn't walk a single batter and struck out just one. I guess that defines pitching to contact!

Two nights later, the Jays had their first shutout at SkyDome as Dave Stieb and David Wells combined on a 2-0 white wash of Detroit. So oddly in a building that would later be known as a home run haven, the Blue Jays had two complete games and a combined shutout in their first three games at their new home.

The Blue Jays would go on to win their division, but ultimately lose the American League Championship to the powerhouse Oakland A's - who went on to beat the Giants in the World Series.

The point of all of this is that the Blue Jays have played all or parts (1989) of 25 seasons at the SkyDome/Rogers Centre. But June 5 of 2014 will be the official 25th anniversary of the first game ever played at SkyDome.

One problem - the Blue Jays aren't home on June 5. They're playing at Comerica Park in Detroit. But they will be home on the anniversary of the first victory on Saturday, June 7 against St. Louis. So let the planning begin.

The years have just flown by and their have been so many incredible memories. Let's hope the Blue Jays do something special.

Rogers Centre in Toronto (Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Abelimages/Getty Images)
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