BOSTON -- A year ago today it was all over. The Toronto Blu Jays had won the AL East, edging the Orioles in two games that were as draining as they were electrifying. The series remains vivid in the imagination, serving as a powerful link between these teams.
Now they meet again for the final three steps of a 162-gamwaltz, only this time they're preparing to different arrangements. The Blue Jays again hear the fanfare of champions. The Orioles hear only the symphony of revenge.
It's a distinction worth noting as the lockout season reaches itclimax starting tonight at Memorial Stadium (7:35, HTS). The Blue Jays, trailing Boston by one game, are under even greater pressure than last year. The Orioles, long since eliminated, are under no pressure at all.
Indeed, the only thing left for the Orioles is the sweet satisfactiothat would come from ruining Toronto's season. "I know that. Don't tell me," Blue Jays leftfielder George Bell sighed after yesterday's 10-5 victory over the Red Sox. "They're still ticked off at us."
It will not be the same in Boston, where the opponent will bChicago, the team with the third-best record in baseball. The vTC only recent history there involves Carlton Fisk, who is certain to inflict some type of torture upon his former team in the next three days.
The Red Sox could have clinched a tie for the division titlyesterday, but that would have been far too easy for a team that last won the World Series in 1918. Now all they must do is match what the Blue Jays do in Baltimore. Could be two wins. Could be one. Could be none.
"It's not going to be easy for Boston, even at home," Torontreliever Tom Henke said. "Likewise for us. Baltimore has got incentive to knock us off. We knocked them out of the playoffs last year. I bet they're just chomping at the bit waiting for us to come in."
According to Boston leftfielder Mike Greenwell, the Orioleactually should have dual incentive. They lost three straight games in the ninth inning to Toronto in mid-September, and what self-respecting team wouldn't want to erase those from memory?
Listening to the players on both sides yesterday, you would thinthe Orioles deserved to win (watching those players, you might think so too . . . almost). The Blue Jays suddenly fear a team they've beaten seven times in 10 tries. The Red Sox suddenly are its biggest admirers.
"I know a lot of guys over there in Baltimore, and I know they'rgoing to be busting their butts trying to beat them for us," Greenwell said. "They want to finish on a winning note. And they want to get a little revenge for the way they lost up there.
"They lost three tough ballgames. A break here or there, and wmight not be here today. I'm sure they want to beat them as much as we want them to beat them."
Added second baseman Jody Reed, "They're not going to quitThey've got three days until they go home. I know the personalities in that clubhouse. They're going to play hard and try to win regardless of if they're in it or not. Those guys will play hard until the end."
Anyway, if the Blue Jays win two of three and the Red Sox lostwo of three, a one-game playoff will decide what six months could not. The game would be played Thursday in the SkyDome. There is no truth to the rumor Bucky Dent would throw out the first pitch.
Actually, New England got off pretty good this weekenddisregarding the atrocities that took place yesterday. The Olde Towne Team won the first two games in dramatic fashion, not that anyone remembered after the Blue Jays matched their season-high with 19 hits in Game 3.
"The Red Sox losing today spoils the whole thing," one cabdriveexplained while listening to the NFL Patriots get pounded by the Jets. "They were supposed to win today, lose three to Chicago and then force a playoff."
If the Red Sox indeed blow this one, their fickle fans will point ta single moment yesterday as the beginning of the end. It happened when Greg Harris struck out Kelly Gruber to end the first inning. What was so bad? Harris' wild pitch enabled Gruber to take first. Naturally, he wound up scoring Toronto's first run.
Suggested magic number: 911.
Harris had been 6-0 in day games, but more important he's 0-with a 10.69 ERA in his last four starts. He lasted 1 2/3 innings, only to be replaced by Joe Hesketh, the guy who would have pitched Saturday if Roger Clemens did not. Can you imagine? Hesketh allowed 10 baserunners in 2 2/3 innings.
As bad as it sounds, the Blue Jays kept things interesting bstranding eight baserunners the first three innings. Boston crept back thanks to some creative outfield play by Bell, who assisted on three doubles. A two-out RBI single by Tony Pena made it 4-4 in the fourth.
Still, Toronto lefthander Jimmy Key remained undauntedworking 6 2/3 innings to improve his career mark at Fenway to 5-1. The Blue Jays took the lead for good with three runs in the fifth, the first on Junior Felix's second homer of the series. After that inning Fred McGriff was 4-for-4.
Toronto added three more runs in the seventh, and by the timTom Brunansky hit his fifth homer of the series, it was already too late. The Red Sox had been 6-0 against the Blue Jays at Fenway this season, 10-2 overall. Afterward, Gruber went so far as to say they deserved to win the pennant.
That remains to be seen. The Red Sox are 3-0 against Chicago aFenway (4-5 overall). The Blue Jays are 2-1 at Memorial Stadium. Their pitchers the next two nights, David Wells and Bud Black, are lefthanded. The Orioles are a dismal 23-31 against lefty starters.
What does it all mean? At this time of year, probably nothingStill, Orioles manager Frank Robinson reworked his rotation so that his three hottest pitchers -- Jose Mesa, Dave Johnson and Ben McDonald -- would face Toronto. He did so in the spirit of competition.
Not a word was said about revenge.
Not a word.