Jays' Morris is simply a winner Only teams change in his success story

September 23, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

Only the uniform changes. The fire in his eyes, the sneer on his face, the just plain orneriness that is as big a part of his pitching persona as the split-fingered fastball -- they are constant.

Forget the high ERA.

Forget the herky-jerky mechanics.

Jack Morris wins. "I used to feel when Jack was pitching for the other team that he'd always keep you close, and he might give you a chance to beat him, but he'd usually find a way to beat you," Toronto Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said last night.

The Orioles, the last team to beat Morris this year, will get another shot at the 37-year-old right-hander tonight in the second game of their last-gasp, three-game series with the first-place Blue Jays.

Since a 3-0 defeat Aug. 11 in Toronto, Morris (19-5) has won five straight decisions and will try to become the first 20-game winner in the 16-year history of the Blue Jays.

"I'm not surprised by the fact that things have gone this well," Morris said last weekend in Toronto. "But it's not something I've spent a lot of time dwelling on. You just have to go out and do it."

Morris never has been a contemplative kind of guy. If he was, he still might be in Detroit, where he spent the first 13 years of his career and seemed to be as much a fixture with the Tigers as Sparky Anderson. If he was, he still might be in Minnesota, where he led his hometown Twins to a World Series championship last season.

Though his move to Toronto was viewed as an act of the ultimate baseball mercenary -- he filed for free agency within days of being named the Series MVP and signed with the Blue Jays in December -- he said that his decision was based on dollars and sense.

"It's human nature to question whether it was the right move, but it was a no-brainer for me," Morris said. "What could I have ever done to top that? The club was only going to go so far [in its offer].

"Before I signed here, I talked with the owner and general manager [of the Twins], and told them that I'd sign for a million dollars less [a year] than the Blue Jays offered. They encouraged me to sign here."

So Morris did, for an estimated $5 million a year for three years. He is trying to do for the Blue Jays what he did last year for the Twins, what he did for the Tigers in 1984. Sign him, and he shall come through.

It doesn't seem to matter that his ERA has been over 4.00 four times during his career -- it's currently at 4.08 -- and never under 3.25. It doesn't made a difference that his strikeout-to-walk ratio has been less than 2-1.

Just give him the ball, the bigger the game the better.

"The older I get, maybe it's because of the accomplishments I have had, the numbers become inconsequential," Morris said. "I enjoy going out and competing, and competing at the highest level. Winning is the only thing that matters."

Morris might not have been the most popular of teammates earlier in his career, given his habit of turning his back on an outfielder who dropped a routine fly or shooting a cold stare at one of his infielders who made a bad throw.

But his combativeness has been appreciated by the Blue Jays.

"The biggest thing I've noticed about Jack is the way he's always running his mouth about something," said Blue Jays catcher Pat Borders. "It fires him up, and it fires his team up. I think that's one of the reasons we've scored so many runs for him. He makes the game exciting."

Last night's winner, Todd Stottlemyre, said: "You see how he acts and how he competes, and you try to learn from him.

"He has been there before, and we're trying to get there."

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