The end was merciful and quick. The Toronto Blue Jays did not linger. Just a few minutes after the Boston Red Sox eliminated the Jays from the AL East pennant race, the Orioles officially pulled the plug on Toronto's season.
Boston outfielder Tom Brunansky's marvelous catch preceded Orioles catcher Mickey Tettleton's mighty home run by a scant five minutes last night. Not time enough for the body to get cold.
So ended the Blue Jays' latest run at a division title. This one slipped away not in a 3-2 loss to the Orioles, but in a grisly 3-6 road trip. Toronto started the trip Sept. 24 with a one-game lead in the East. It finished two games out, dead in the water.
Next gathering of the Blew Jays: spring training.
"We had talent here," said reliever Tom Henke, who gave up the game/season-ending homer to Tettleton in the bottom of the ninth. "If we played the way we're capable, we could've run away with it.
"But you have to give Boston a lot of credit. They had a lot of adversity and overcame it. There was a lot of pressure on them . . . the 'Curse of the Babe.' "
At 10:40 last night, the Blue Jays watched with resignation the Diamond Vision replay of Brunansky's pennant-clinching catch in Boston. Taking the field for the bottom of the ninth, players froze as the giant screen revealed their destiny.
"I'd be lying if I said my heart didn't [sink] a little when I saw it," Henke said. "But that's where professionalism picks up. I still wanted to win the game."
"Our guys took it like men," manager Cito Gaston said in a whisper. "There was a lot of disappointment."
In the post-mortem that followed, the Blue Jays focused on their comeback this season, rather than the bungling of their lead. A month ago, on Sept. 4, they were 6 1/2 games behind Boston. But after they beat Milwaukee on the first night of the season-ending road trip, they were 1 1/2 games in front.
Such was their roller-coaster season.
"We were up and down, playing good and bad," Henke said.
"We did not play fundamentally sound baseball all the time," said centerfielder Mookie Wilson, who misplayed consecutive line drives in the Orioles' sixth. "No question about that. But it did not lose the season for us."
George Bell, the soon-to-be free agent leftfielder, thought differently, however.
"We make a lot of mistakes," Bell said. "That's what caused us to go home early this year.
"You should be prepared in the minor leagues to be a complete player [before reaching the major leagues]."
Dave Stieb, last night's starter for Toronto, was even more caustic about the Blue Jays' inconsistencies this season.
"If you play with a certain amount of intensity, you can minimize the droughts," Stieb said. "When you can't bunt guys over late in the year, and that's a fundamental thing . . . It was something we couldn't do.
"Every person in here had an effect on us losing. At times the starting pitching was brutal. At times the bullpen was brutal. Sometimes we didn't hit. Sometimes the defense wasn't that great."
So it is left for the Red Sox to challenge the Oakland dynasty, to see if the A's can be beaten. Does Stieb think the Red Sox have a chance?
"No," he said. "We'd have the best chance to beat them. But that's my opinion."
The Blue Jays instead will go home to contemplate their latest failing.
"The home run was not a good way to end the season," Henke said. "But I'm not going to hang my head. I had a good year. [But] it was a strange season team-wise. I'm sure there will be changes."
Bell declined to speculate on his potential free agency. But he offered the most interesting resolution to Toronto's season. "I'm going to go home, drink Cervesa, and smoke my cigar," he said.