Blue Jays' flaws and tempers come bubbling to surface

August 06, 1992|By Nick Cafardo | Nick Cafardo,Boston Globe

BOSTON -- It's August. The Blow Jays usually surface.

You could see the buds starting to sprout, but they prevented their evil alter ego from emerging with a 5-4 comeback win over the Boston Red Sox yesterday.

The leaders in the American League East are a little wobbly. You could still hand them the keys and they wouldn't crash, but one more series like this -- in which they lost two of three and couldn't dominate a team that was near death -- and we might see the Blow Jays in full bloom.

No team can go an entire season without a slump, and perhaps Toronto is merely tipping slightly on its way to the title. But the Blue Jays have let Baltimore remain in the race, they have let Milwaukee take hope, and they have restored the confidence of the half-dead Red Sox.

Do we write this story every year?

Yes.

"It was important for us to win this game and just get out of town," said manager Cito Gaston. "It's been strange here. We didn't lose for two years [15 straight] here at one point, and now it seems we can't win here. That's still a good team over there."

The Blue Jays did not distinguish themselves in this series except for their commendable comeback yesterday when pinch hitter John Olerud slammed a two-run single in the eighth off Jeff Reardon.

They lost ace starter Juan Guzman, who went on the 15-day disabled list with a shoulder problem. They allowed the Sox to steal home because of a lack of attentiveness. And, despite a decent effort yesterday, they showed they have flaws in their bullpen.

The Jays completely lost their cool in the finale when Gaston, Todd Stottlemyre and Roberto Alomar were ejected for arguing with umpires.

Teams in first place should be more composed.

Stottlemyre, the starting pitcher, was getting hit around and decided to argue about a force play that wasn't even a force situation in the third when Herm Winningham's pop fly fell between Jeff Kent and shortstop Manuel Lee in short left. It had been ruled an infield fly.

"I screwed up," said Stottlemyre, who put the Jays in a tough spot but was rescued by rookie reliever Doug Linton, who pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings as he held the Red Sox lead at 4-3. "I didn't see the infield fly rule. I totally misread the play. I thought it was a force situation and I was arguing the call and I must have bumped [third-base umpire Jim Joyce] when I came up."

Alomar argued a called third strike in the fifth on a pitch that was outside.

He was tossed. Gaston came out and argued. He was tossed.

"I hate to see someone get thrown out on a bad pitch," said Gaston. "I don't see why you throw a guy out for missing a pitch."

Puzzling. They are not using Ed Sprague and Derek Bell, who can really play. They are piling up the useless Dave Stiebs and Kelly Grubers. The third baseman has become a hypochondriac. Instead of leading the Jays in home runs and game-winning RBI, as he should be, he leads the team in house calls and MRIs.

Is there any doubt the West winner will beat the Jays in the playoffs?

At least that will be the case if Toronto doesn't sharpen its act.

"Yeah, we can play better than this," said Toronto outfielder Dave Winfield. "But it's not the end of the world. I think we showed some character by coming back to salvage something. We just don't want to be salvaging all the time."

The Jays have constructed their lead in large part because of their success against the Yankees (9-1). They have outscored New York 74-33. And part of their success against the Yanks was attributable to the wretched play of New York outfielder Mel Hall, which led to a pair of Blue Jays victories just before they came to Boston.

The Jays are 54-42 against the rest of the American League, having outscored their opponents 423-404. That's a good record, but not a runaway.

This series showed that the multi-talented Blue Jays can be beaten. Winfield's presence has helped because he tries to keep the younger players focused on doing the little things. He can preach that, but he can't make them do it. Before the series, the Jays were about to run away and not look back, and maybe they will still do that.

But it seems every year they put themselves in a position to be ridiculed.

"This isn't a bad team we played," said Olerud. "They have good hitters and good pitchers. They're one of the teams that like to beat us because of the rivalry we have, and that's good because I think we learn from series like these that you take nobody lightly."

The series also proved the Red Sox obviously do not get up for teams not wearing uniforms with blue trim. Now they embark on a 12-game trip to New York, Cleveland and Milwaukee against teams they should be able to beat. Will the road remain their albatross?

This is certainly a Catch-22 situation for the Red Sox. They are playing better, hanging around in fourth place. They are playing loose. Nobody is making any pretense about coming back to win it; therefore, they are putting no pressure on themselves.

But the better they do, the worse their draft picks get.

Right now they are a spoiler.

As the Jays found out. What the Jays also found out is this won't be an easy divisional win. They have to work hard, especially if Baltimore can hang in and acquire Greg Harris to bolster its pitching.

Maybe they won't be the Blow Jays. But the wheels are a little wobbly.

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