MINNEAPOLIS -- The Toronto Blue Jays returned to the Metrodome last night to find that something had changed since they ended the regular season here on Sunday afternoon. They have played baseball under the Big Top before, but not when the circus is in town.
The Detroit Tigers had the same realization in 1987, when they dominated the Minnesota Twins during the regular season and were dome-inated in the playoffs.
The Blue Jays can deny that they were shouted out of the first game of the American League Championship Series, but they certainly were at loose ends in the early innings of last night's 5-4 defeat.
The sellout crowd of 54,766 tried hard to re-create the atmosphere that gave the Twins a tremendous home-field advantage on the way to the 1987 world championship. The homer hankies were everywhere. Dozens of banners ringed the upper deck. Most of the fans wore white, though it had nothing to do with surrender.
"It didn't bother me," said Blue Jays outfielder Joe Carter, who played a catchable line drive into a run-scoring double in the third inning. "You don't let those things bother you. If it pumps them up, great, but I wasn't worried about it."
Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but the Blue Jays made two physical errors and a couple of mental ones to help the Twins build a five-run lead by the third inning.
Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but the Twins improved their postseason record at the Metrodome to 7-0.
The five-run advantage would hold up, but not by much. Twins right-hander Jack Morris was overpowering for five innings, but his strong performance unraveled with an AL playoff record-tying string of hits in the sixth. Only 3 2/3 innings of hitless relief by Carl Willis and Rick Aguilera would salvage the victory for him.
Morris had everything going his way until the sixth inning. He was working on a three-hitter. The crowd was in the game. The Twins had a four-run lead. What could go wrong?
Try everything. Morris struck out Manuel Lee to open the inning, then gave up three runs on five consecutive singles as the Blue Jays tied the AL playoff record set by the New York Yankees against the Oakland A's on Oct. 14, 1981. That turned it back into a game and turned Morris into a spectator.
Devon White lined a single to left and Roberto Alomar followed with a pop-up that disappeared against the gray-white fabric roof and fell behind second base for another hit. It was the kind of thing that has been known to rattle Morris, but he went head-to-head with Carter in a classic 10-pitch at-bat before giving up a line drive to right to load the bases.
John Olerud drove in the first run of the inning with a single to right, and Kelly Gruber pulled an 0-2 pitch into left field to pull the Blue Jays to within 5-4.
"Jack did a fabulous job," Twins manager Tom Kelly said. "Maybe I was a little dumb in leaving him out there so long. He has a sore throat and an upper-respiratory infection, but nothing was going to keep him from going out there."
Willis came in to get out of the inning with the one-run lead intact and went on to hold the Blue Jays hitless until Aguilera took over with two out in the eighth.
But it never figured to come to that. The Blue Jays did everything in their power to get blown out in the early innings, even though they had one of the AL's stingiest pitchers on the mound.
Knuckleballer Tom Candiotti had the second-best ERA in the league (2.62) during the regular season, but he gave up eight hits in 2 2/3 innings in the first postseason appearance of his career.
Toronto manager Cito Gaston had it all figured out. He aligned his starting rotation so that Candiotti would put the Minnesota lineup into a funk and set them up for hard-throwing rookie Juan Guzman today.
It didn't work out quite the way the Blue Jays might have hoped.
The Twins picked their way through Candiotti's pitch selection until they found the ones they liked and then took flight, stealing four bases in the first three innings, aggressively advancing on fly balls and playing hit-and-run -- much more running than expected from the Twins, who ranked 16th with 107 stolen bases in the regular season.
"We got him out of his game plan somewhat," Kelly said. "He started throwing more fastballs and more sliders. [Hitting coach] Terry Crowley prepared the hitters very well. We did a pretty good job of getting good pitches to hit and getting the bat on the ball."
Dan Gladden and Chuck Knoblauch opened the first inning with back-to-back hits, setting up Chili Davis for a two-out, two-run single that put the Twins on top to stay. The Twins added two more runs on four hits in the second, with Gladden and Knoblauch again contributing base hits.
Gladden has a history of jump-starting the Twins offense in postseason play. He hit .350 in the 1987 playoffs against the Detroit Tigers and .314 overall in postseason play that year.