Morris' warning: Don't concede title to Blue Jays

April 12, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

TORONTO -- As the resident expert on the subject, Jack Morris is being asked to compare the Toronto Blue Jays to the Detroit Tigers of 1984.

But the veteran right-hander isn't committing -- at least not yet.

"Hey, we've only played five games," said Morris after winning his second straight game, a not-very-tidy 7-2 decision over the Orioles. "That team had 30 more [early season] wins than we do.

"Besides, the Yankees are 4-0; they're only a half-game behind us. There's going to be a race, don't worry."

However, it remains to be seen whether the Yankees can pose a serious threat to the Blue Jays. And, despite his effort to curtail runaway optimism, even Morris had to admit there are some similarities between this team and the 1984 Tigers, who surged from the gate by winning 35 of their first 40 games.

"That team could beat teams a lot of different ways -- with offense, defense, starting pitching, the bullpen -- and so can we," said Morris. "The key to success for this team is staying healthy.

"We have a lot of confidence, people are aware of their abilities. It's the kind of team that, if it takes care of itself, doesn't have to worry about anybody else," Morris said of the Blue Jays. "If we do what we can do, there's no need to be looking at the scoreboard."

That was true of the Tigers in 1984, when Morris was the leader of the pitching staff. That team won its first nine games, 16 of its first 17 and had the division wrapped up before Mother's Day. Not only is it too early to make comparisons, it is also unrealistic.

"We've played well the first five games," said Morris. "It's a sign of the kind of team we have, but there's a lot of games left to be played and funny things can happen."

The Blue Jays (with help from the Orioles) gift-wrapped yesterday's win early for Morris. They scored two runs in the first inning and four in the third.

Morris spent so much time on the bench in the first third of the game that his biggest problem was concentration. "Mentally I got out of the game a couple of times," he said. "When you have long innings, sometimes it's hard to stay zoned in -- but you have to do it. You have to get a better program."

In yesterday's game, Morris said, there seemed to be a carry-over from Toronto's come-from-behind 4-3 win the day before. "You'd always prefer to take the other team out of the game, but a few of those kind [of late-inning wins] can help a club," said Morris. "Today, basically, we won because we took them out early, not because I pitched particularly well.

"I made some pitches when I had to, but it wasn't a thing of beauty. It certainly wasn't a clinic out there -- it seemed like they had base runners all the time."

The Orioles stranded 11 runners.

There's no question why the Blue Jays invested $11 million in Morris for two years. General manager Pat Gillick provided the reasoning behind the free-agent acquisition during spring training.

"When's the last time a guy pitched in the World Series for three teams?" Gillick asked a visiting writer. (The answer is Grant Jackson -- with the Orioles in 1971, the Yankees in 1976 and the Pirates in 1979).

Gillick's implication was clear: Morris was obtained to lead the Blue Jays to the title.

Morris is setting an endurance example. He needed 145 pitches for his Opening Day win in Detroit and threw 118 in seven innings (a 154 pace) here yesterday. The other starters are watching.

"Jack's older and he's been around," said Jimmy Key, the starter in Toronto's win on Friday, "and those of us who are not so old but not so young take notice. We don't want him showing us up."

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