Twins complete last-to-1st quest Jays beat Erickson, but Chicago falls, too

September 30, 1991|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

TORONTO -- The Minnesota Twins never got to have the clubhouse celebration they had worked six months to arrange. They were on a bus to the airport yesterday when word arrived that their unlikely run at the American League West title was complete.

The Toronto Blue Jays prevented the traditional champagne dousing with a 2-1 victory over the Twins in the final game of their playoff preview series at SkyDome. The division race was not officially decided until the Chicago White Sox lost to the Seattle Mariners an hour later at Comiskey Park.

"If you had your druthers, you would rather win it on the field and jump up and down, but this isn't bad," manager Tom Kelly told the St. Paul Pioneer-Press after getting the news on the bus ride to the Hamilton, Ontario, airport. "Ninety-two wins? To go from last to first? That's quite an accomplishment."

"It took away the celebration, but the feeling is still there," said pitcher Scott Erickson.

It was only a matter of time, one way or another, before the Twins became the first team in modern major-league history to win a title after finishing last the previous season. They went from seventh place in 1990 to seventh heaven yesterday, which was no small accomplishment in the balanced AL West.

"It has never been done before in the history of baseball," Twins general manager Andy MacPhail said. "That's something this organization can take great pride in. The thing that makes it most meaningful is that we did it in what we believe is the toughest division in baseball."

The Blue Jays, meanwhile, whittled away at their magic number in the AL East, cutting it to three and firming up their postseason plans.

"I think today was a big game for us," Toronto manager Cito Gaston said, "but we can't look at the playoffs just yet. We've still got to get there."

Right-hander Todd Stottlemyre moved the Blue Jays one step closer with a strong 6 1/3 -inning performance to earn his 14th victory of the year. Twins Cy Young candidate Erickson pitched just as well, but came up a couple of runs short of his 20th victory of the year.

He figures to get one more chance, probably against the Blue Jays on Friday at the Metrodome. The way the Twins' rotation stacks up, either Jack Morris or Kevin Tapani will be the starter in the playoff opener on Oct. 8, with Erickson likely to make his postseason debut on the road in Game 3.

There still is a week left of regular-season play, which will give manager Tom Kelly seven meaningless games to arrange his pitching staff for the playoffs. Three of those games will be at home against the Blue Jays, who probably will be basking in the glory of a division title by then, too.

But the Jays were expected to be at the top of the standings. The Twins were 74-88 last year and were not expected to finish much higher than fifth place in 1991. No one saw them coming -- especially after a 2-9 start -- but everyone in the division watched them go by.

"It's been a fun year," Morris said. "It's something that is probably confusing to people who don't understand, but I thought it could happen. We're here for a reason. It's not a fluke. The Minnesota Twins are a good team."

Minnesota would not be heading for the playoffs if it wasn't for Morris, who left the Detroit Tigers to sign as a free agent with his hometown team. But the same could be said for Erickson, who came out of nowhere to be one of the winningest pitchers in baseball.

Erickson (19-8) turned in a solid complete-game performance, but he could not recover from a rocky first inning in which the Blue Jays scored both of their runs.

Center fielder Devon White led off with a double to right, and the inning became more complicated when Erickson threw too late to third on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Roberto Alomar.

It wasn't much of a bunt. The ball bounced right up to Erickson, who appeared to have time to make the play at third. But White, one of the fastest men in baseball, was safe on a play that was so close umpire Durwood Merrill had to stop and think about it.

"I thought I had a chance," Erickson said. "When I caught the ball and turned, he [White] was about halfway. It was a tough play."

White scored on a one-out, bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Kelly Gruber. The Jays added a second run on a two-out single by Candy Maldonado. That would be all of the scoring until the Twins finally pushed a run across in the seventh.

Stottlemyre did not pitch well in his only other appearance against the Twins this year, but he gave up just three singles through the first six innings yesterday. It took a pair of hard-hit balls in the seventh to pry him off the mound.

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