TORONTO -- Cito Gaston, whose job was rumored to be in jeopardy if Toronto didn't win the American League pennant, said yesterday he hadn't lost his enthusiasm for managing.
"Not at all," Gaston said, when asked if the loss to the Minnesota Twins had dampened his spirits. "I would like to come back one time and in [to the playoffs] healthy."
Gaston, 47, has been criticized for not starting Juan Guzman in Game 1, or bringing him back in Game 5 yesterday. His handling of the Blue Jays' bullpen, particularly using rookie Mike Timlin in three straight games, two of them crucial situations, also was questioned.
Timlin gave up the game-winning home run to Mike Pagliarulo in Game 3, after Tom Henke had been removed and with Duane Ward available. Yesterday Ward was brought in with the score tied in the sixth inning, after Timlin had allowed a game-tying double to Chuck Knoblauch -- and Henke went unused.
"Henke was available," said Gaston, "but a lot of people don't realize with Tom having a sore arm it changes things around for us."
Henke was used early in Games 2 and 3, with Ward replacing him as the closer. But yesterday, according to Gaston, the roles were reversed. "I've been here 10 years now and we always seem to come up with someone getting hurt [late in the season]," said Gaston, who was thrown out of yesterday's game following a dispute with plate umpire Mike Reilly.
While admitting his team needs help, general manager Pat Gillick admitted there was more disappointment in losing this time. "You're always disappointed when you think you have the guys to win and you don't win it," said Gillick.
"I thought we had a chance, but we didn't do it. It's a little more disappointing this time than last time  because Oakland had a great team. This time I thought we could've won."
It didn't sound like a ringing endorsement for Gaston, though Gillick didn't address the situation directly and indicated the Blue Jays would make more changes.
"We need a little more punch in the middle of the lineup," said Gillick. "You've got to be able to deliver with runners in scoring position."
Gaston's health could also be a factor in the decision as to whether he returns. He missed 33 games this year because of lTC back problems and may face surgery in the offseason.
Complicating the issue for the Blue Jays could be Milwaukee's apparent interest in Gene Tenace as a replacement for Tom Trebelhorn. Tenace filled in during Gaston's absence this year, compiling a 19-14 record, and would be a candidate for the Toronto job if Gaston doesn't return.