Blue Jays cling to chance for tie Toronto's McGriff homers in 9th to beat Orioles, 2-1

October 03, 1990|By Bill Glauber

For the Toronto Blue Jays, it was a night of triumph followed by an hour of torture.

The Blue Jays beat the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1, last night at Memorial Stadium. And then, they waited, and waited and waited, huddled around a television set in the visitors' clubhouse, watching the Boston Red Sox torment all of New England and the American League East in a game against the Chicago White Sox.

"We're in limbo now," said pitcher Bud Black. "It's strange."

"Having a nice time?" George Bell said to one reporter.

The clock ticked. The players paced. The photographers lined up for a one final shot, prepared to record a victory or a defeat.

Finally, at 11:22 p.m., the Blue Jays received a reprieve when the Red Sox lost, 3-2, in 11 innings.

"Anything can happen now," Toronto third baseman Kelly Gruber said.

The race for the AL East title lurches into the 162nd and final game of the season tonight. The second-place Blue Jays (86-75) will start Dave Stieb against Ben McDonald and the Baltimore Orioles at Memorial Stadium, while the Red Sox (87-74), hanging by a thread in first, will face the White Sox at Fenway Park.

A Red Sox win clinches the title for Boston. But a Red Sox loss and a Blue Jays victory forces a one-game playoff in Toronto tomorrow.

"It's not ours to win," Gruber said. "It's theirs. They have it. Let's hope they lose it."

The Blue Jays hung in this race on the guts of starting pitcher Black and one mighty swing by Fred McGriff. Black (13-11), checked the Orioles on three hits through eight innings, and then gave way in the ninth to reliever Tom Henke, who picked up his 32nd save.

But it was McGriff's 35th home-run of the season, a bases-empty fly to right with two out in the ninth off Orioles starter Dave Johnson, which gave the Blue Jays a cushion and a second wind in the AL East race.

"We don't have control over a lot of things," McGriff said. "All we can do is take care of ourselves."

The Blue Jays handled the tension of a pennant race superbly. They stared down an Orioles (75-85) team that had won 10 of its last 13 games.

Toronto, needing a win, went to Black, the pennant insurance they acquired from Cleveland Sept. 17. He didn't disappoint the Blue Jays, allowing a leadoff single to Steve Finley, before retiring 16 of 17 batters.

"Any game of this magnitude, a World Series, a playoff, a game to get in the playoffs, it's fun," Black said. "It's exciting. It's what every player relishes, performing under a microscope."

The showing impressed Baltimore manager Frank Robinson, who said: "It was an outstanding effort. He gave us nothing until the eighth inning. And then, he didn't even give us that run. We never had much to work with."

Johnson (13-9) also pitched wonderfully, using his elusive blend of twitches, junk and changeups to keep the Blue Jays off balance for 8 2/3 innings. Consecutive singles by Bell, John Olerud and Pat Borders produced Toronto's run in the fifth.

Finally, in the eighth, the Orioles scratched out a run. Craig Worthington led off with a single, and gave way to pinch runner Rene Gonzales. Jeff McKnight moved Gonzales to third with a single. Brady Anderson then smacked a line drive to center. Mookie Wilson made the catch and threw home, but the peg was too late. Gonazles crossed the plate and McKnight went to third on the missed cut-off. But the Orioles couldn't get another run as Billy Ripken ended the inning with a fly to right.

McGriff pushed the Blue Jays ahead to stay with his towering home run on a 2-2 count.

"I didn't think it was going out," Johnson said. "I thought he hit it too high. It was a changeup, and as soon as it left my hand, it didn't move."

Johnson was upset by the home run and frustrated by the defeat.

"It doesn't matter whether the score is 1-0 or 14-0," he said. "A loss is still a loss. This was a game I wanted to win. Any time you can settle a title, you take it."

One hanging changeup, and one defeat in Boston, added up to one more day of a tense pennant race.

"It's sort of like a doubleheader win," Black said. "We need one more."

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