Jays blue again, unable to knock those Sox off

John Eisenberg

October 04, 1990|By John Eisenberg

So now we know. The Toronto Blue Jays' bad karma is worse than the Boston Red Sox's bad karma. Call it an upset, a changing of the societal order in that grim, frazzled land where life's losers buy real estate. The Red Sox may have a longer list of psychic ailments, but the Blue Jays are catching up.

This will be remembered as the year death and taxes fought it out in the American League East. It was as if the Denver Broncos were playing themselves in the Super Bowl, or two Democrats were running for president. The only reason both didn't lose was that it was impossible. The Blow Jays against the Dead Sox. Baseball by Hitchcock. Everyone drinks the hemlock and goes to sleep.

The perfect ending, of course, would have been a tortuous, extra-inning Red Sox loss in Boston coupled with another Blue Jays loss at Memorial Stadium, the Red Sox thus winning the title by a scant game with that piercing battle cry that became the motto of this goose-egg pennant race: "Oh well, at least they lost, too."

The Red Sox threw a wrinkle into the plot, though, by beating Chicago last night, 3-1, to win the division without so much as a glance at that trusted ally, the scoreboard. The Red Sox's poltergeists clearly slept through their wake-up call. (If they hadn't, that ball would have bounced past Tom Brunansky, three runs would have scored and there would have been a line of people jumping into Boston Harbor this morning.)

As it turned out, the Red Sox could have lost by a dozen runs and still qualified for their upcoming crunching by Oakland in the playoffs. The Blue Jays held up their end of the fractured equation with a vintage performance, blowing a late lead in a game they had to win, losing to the Orioles, 3-2.

Let's take stock here. The Red Sox won six of their last eight games -- give them credit for grabbing this thing with their own hands. But the Blue Jays certainly did their part, losing eight of their last 12, including two of three to end the season here in Baltimore. It will, in the end, go down as another should-have in this franchise's soiled history.

In 1985, the Blue Jays blew a 3-1 lead to Kansas City in the American League playoffs, and two years later, they lost their last seven games and finished a game behind Detroit: The two collapses are the fiber of the extra baggage they now permanently carry. In 1988, they came back to finish two games out of first. They did win the division last year, but now this, another scuff mark.

As a history, it doesn't begin to compare with the Red Sox's 72 years of agonizing near-misses. But the Red Sox were the grandfatherly generation of losers in this fray. The Blue Jays are very much the new kids on the block in the land of oy vey, and they are a force. They may be young, but they can swap cave-in stories with anyone.

This is a team with one of those fundamental problems that you can't see. This year, the Blue Jays led the league in defense and runs scored -- a heck of an exacta, that -- and finished second in home runs and a respectable seventh in pitching. They were better than Boston, but they lost five of seven to the Red Sox in their two late-season series. When they got into a stare-off, they were the ones who blinked.

Before Tuesday's game, when they were two games out with two to play, they were in a depressed mood, willing to call themselves names. Kelly Gruber admitted that they were "underachievers." When Fred McGriff struggled to give reporters the right words, George Bell walked up and said, "Just say what I say. Just say that we blew it."

Tuesday's events briefly renewed their hope, but after the finality of last night's loss, Mookie Wilson put it this way: "There is no question that we didn't play fundamentally sound baseball all the time this season. It didn't lose the season for us, but it sure didn't help. There are things we have to do, have to work on. I don't think anyone in here will disagree."

Word of the Red Sox's victory reached Memorial Stadium in the middle of the ninth inning, as the Orioles' fielders were running to the dugout and the Blue Jays were heading back out to the field, the score tied, 2-2. A replay of the final out was shown on the scoreboard, the wording such that the result wasn't known until Brunansky caught the ball.

It was a remarkable moment, the Blue Jays watching along with more than 26,000 fans as their season ended. The stadium came to a halt for a moment while everyone watched. When Brunansky caught the ball, the anti-Jays crowd, clearly remembering 1989, stood and cheered. Gruber stood motionless in the infield, his hands on his knees. The rest of the Jays spilled out of the dugout and toward their positions in a mesmerized slow-motion, stunned.

"As I was running back out there, the reality of elimination slapped me in the face," Wilson said. Two outs later, Mickey Tettleton put a ball over the fence and the crowd chanted "bye-bye" and Blue Jays slowly repaired to their clubhouse to begin trying to make sense of what had gone wrong. Again.

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