TORONTO -- Perhaps it would be slightly premature for the Minnesota Twins to ice the champagne, but they can toast their good fortune with something more appropriate. They already have a Canadian club on the rocks.
The American League Championship Series has become a sudden-death playoff for the Toronto Blue Jays, who no longer have any tomorrows to spare after last night's 9-3 loss in Game 4 at SkyDome.
Right-hander Jack Morris held the stolid Blue Jays offense to two runs on nine hits over eight innings on the way to his second victory in four days. The Twins took a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series and can close it out this afternoon when right-hander Kevin Tapani faces knuckleball pitcher Tom Candiotti in Game 5.
The Blue Jays may have won eight out of 12 games against the Twins during the regular season, but the law of averages caught up with them at just the wrong time. They know that it's possible to blow a 3-1 playoff advantage -- they became the first team to do it in 1985 -- but every indicator points to the World Series starting at the Metrodome next Saturday.
"The only thing you can say is what Yogi [Berra] said, 'It's not over until it's over,' " Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "I know in '85 we were up 3-1 and we couldn't win another ballgame. Funny things happen. It's not over until they beat us again."
Last night, left fielder Dan Gladden drove in three runs and Game 3 hero Mike Pagliarulo drove in two, as the Twins roughed up right-hander Todd Stottlemyre and a parade of relievers for 13 hits.
Blue Jays outfielder Joe Carter was back in the starting lineup the day after he sprained his right ankle, but he struck out twice in an 0-for-5 DH performance that left room to wonder if he should have left the driving to someone else.
The Toronto offense that scored nine runs in the two games at the hostile Metrodome has managed just two in each of the first two games at home. The Blue Jays were supposed to make up for any deficiency at the plate with an overall advantage on the mound, but it has not turned out that way.
Morris returned to the mound four days after braving a bad cold to defeat the Blue Jays in the playoff opener. He was still feeling a little under the weather last night, but he retired the first five batters he faced before Candy Maldonado dribbled a broken-bat single through the infield.
He could curse the fates for the way the ball barely slipped between shortstop Greg Gagne and second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, but he had no one to blame but himself for the Blue Jays' first run. His wild pitch allowed Maldonado to take second and he gave up a solid single to Pat Borders to break the scoreless tie.
No matter. The run would become insignificant when the Twins batted around to score four times in the fourth inning.
Stottlemyre was making his first postseason appearance since the 1989 playoffs, when he pitched five innings and gave up four runs in a loss to the Oakland Athletics. This time, he worked three scoreless innings before Kirby Puckett led off the fourth with a 426-foot shot into the center-field bleachers.
It was Puckett's second home run in postseason competition and his third run-scoring hit of this series. He went hitless in the playoff opener, but has driven in a run in each of the past three games.
"We were just down by a run," Puckett said, "so I didn't go up there trying to hit a home run. I just wanted to put a good swing on it and it went out of the park."
His blast merely tied the game, but the aftershocks didn't stop until Stottlemyre was icing his arm and the Twins were well in control.