Room-temperature romp awaits Twins, Blue Jays

October 08, 1991|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

MINNEAPOLIS -- The winter chill already has arrived in the capitals of baseball's great white north, but the Minnesota Twins and Toronto Blue Jays don't have to come out to play.

The weather will be perfect at the Metrodome for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series tonight. Set the thermostat at a comfortable 69 degrees and play ball. Toronto's SkyDome offers the option of retracting the roof if the conditions are satisfactory, but this will be baseball's first completely climate-controlled postseason series.

It is not a playoff series for the purists. If Grantland Rice were alive today, his most famous first line would have to go something like this:

Outlined against a gray Teflon sky rode the four horsemen. . . .

The Metrodome is a monument to Monsanto. SkyDome is the most futuristic stadium in North America. This is, indeed, what baseball will look like in the 21st century.

The Twins turned their toy stadium to tremendous advantage on the way to a world championship in 1987. The raucous sellout crowds pumped up the volume on the AL East champion Detroit Tigers and the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals. The club went 6-0 at home in the postseason, scoring all four World Series victories at home.

Though the club does not engender the same, wide-eyed enthusiasm that built to a crescendo four years ago, the cozy Metrodome still figures to reach a deafening pitch when veteran right-hander Jack Morris faces knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti the opener of the best-of-seven series tonight. But Twins manager Tom Kelly doesn't think it will intimidate the Blue Jays.

"Everybody has played here enough," Kelly said. "I don't think the crowd will affect them. These guys have been around the block. It won't affect their communication on the field."

The home-field advantage didn't do the Twins a lot of good during the regular season. They lost two out of three games in each of their two home series against the Blue Jays, the most recent ending Sunday.

Familiarity apparently does breed contempt, which could make for some intrigue over the next few days. The Twins and Blue Jays met six times over the final 10 days of the season, the final series highlighted by a bean-ball exchange on Sunday.

Toronto dominated the season series, 8-4, but that isn't going to mean anything. The Tigers were 8-4 against the Twins during the regular season in 1987 and lost the ALCS in six games. The Los Angeles Dodgers went 11-1 against the Philadelphia Phillies in 1983 and lost the NLCS in four. There is little historical evidence of any correlation between the results of the season series between division champions and the outcome of the playoffs.

The Twins won the toughest division in baseball and won it in convincing fashion. They led the major leagues with a .280 team batting average and outscored the Jays by 93 runs.

Kelly's three-man playoff rotation combined to equal the most regular-season victories by a trio of Twins pitchers (54). Morris, the winningest pitcher of the 1980s, is coming off an 18-victory season in which he re-established himself as one of the premier right-handers in the game. Second-game starter Kevin Tapani won 16 games and was the steadiest Twins starter down the stretch. Scott Erickson won 20 games in his first full season in the major-league rotation.

Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston has arranged his rotation to take advantage of the different styles of his three top pitchers. Candiotti will be followed by hard-throwing rookie Juan Guzman, who has lost just once since June 15. Guzman will be followed by finesse pitcher Jimmy Key.

"When I was the Toronto hitting coach," Gaston said, "I hated to go into Texas and face Charlie Hough in the first game. I thought it threw our hitters off for several days after that. I'm hoping Candiotti will do the same to the Twins."

Kelly doesn't seem concerned, even though the Blue Jays pitching staff has had a lot of success against the Twins this year.

"We have faced these fellows numerous times this year," Kelly said. "We know what they throw. I don't see how it is going to be any big deal. They are very good pitchers. It is going to be tough, but not because of the contrast."

If the changing speeds of the Blue Jays rotation doesn't put the Twins lineup into a slump, Gaston said he hopes the superior speed in the Toronto lineup puts them on the defensive.

The Jays finished second in the league in stolen bases. Second baseman Roberto Alomar led the club with 53, but there is speed distributed throughout the lineup. Leadoff hitter Devon White stole 33, and outfielder Joe Carter had 20 steals. In all, five Blue Jays reached double figures.

Combine that with Brian Harper's 18 percent efficiency rate throwing out base-stealers, and the ALCS could turn into a week at the races.

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