This year, Toronto's vision goes far beyond its division

April 11, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Kelly Gruber agitated some of his teammates when he predicted during spring training that the Toronto Blue Jays would win their division by 15 games if they stayed healthy.

But he may have hurt the feelings of the rest of the American League East even more by telling the truth.

The Blue Jays appear to be a team on a mission. At 4-0, they are off to their best start in club history. In the clubhouse, the T-shirts read "3-for-3 in '92."

The slogan doesn't rhyme and the players say its true meaning is their secret -- but it doesn't take a SkyDome architect to interpret the message. A division title, an AL pennant and a World Series championship ring make up the hat trick the Blue Jays have in mind.

They have been flirting with the top prize for much of the past decade, but have yet to get past the first level of achievement. The consensus is that this could be the breakthrough year.

And if the Orioles were trying to deliver an early message of their own yesterday, they were undoubtedly disappointed. Two outs from handing the Blue Jays their first loss of the season, the Orioles first watched Pat Borders tie the game with a mammoth home run off ace reliever Gregg Olson. Then, with two outs, Devon White doubled and soon scored on a single flared through the middle by Roberto Alomar.

"We have a very good lineup," said Alomar. "We proved we can come back, and we came back with a great pitcher on the mound."

That the Blue Jays have an imposing lineup is a given. The home run was the third in four games for catcher Borders, who bats eighth in Toronto manager Cito Gaston's lineup.

Last year, Borders had no homers and five RBI at the All-Star break. He didn't reach the stands for the first time until July 30.

His reaction to his poor season was to discard his bats and start swinging the model belonging to teammate Joe Carter. The early power surge this year, he says, is a mere coincidence.

"Three lucky swings, I guess," Borders said of his home runs.

Despite the fact that Olson threw 16 strikes in 25 pitches, he fell behind every hitter.

In the process, the Blue Jays realized Olson's trademark pitch, the curveball, wasn't working. "If his curveball doesn't work, he's in big trouble, and that's what happened," said Alomar, who hit a hanging breaking ball for the game-winner.

"I was looking for a fastball away because if you look for his curve you're still not going to hit it unless he hangs it," said Alomar. The implication was clear -- if you look for the fastball, you can still hit a hanging curve.

Olson threw one, and Alomar hit it.

Borders, however, connected on a mediocre fastball that allowed him to extend his arms over the plate.

"His curveball wasn't as good as normal," said Borders, "but it was still better than average. And he's got a good fastball to go with it -- he just left it out over the middle of the plate."

Borders' shot landed in the middle of SkyDome's second deck.

Shortly thereafter, following White's opposite-field double down the left-field line, Alomar found the hanger he was looking for, and the Blue Jays put the finishing touches on their fourth straight victory.

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