Gruber, Cone get A's for effort 2-run HR, 8-inning effort tie series, 3-1

October 09, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Perhaps Kelly Gruber figured it was time to put up or shut up. He was, after all, the guy who opened his big mouth in spring training and helped put the Toronto Blue Jays into a must-win-the-pennant situation.

Gruber was the one who said the Blue Jays were so good they would win the American League East by Labor Day. Said they would win by at least 15 games. Said all that and then had a very mediocre season.

All was forgiven last night, when he broke a scoreless tie with a two-run home run in the fifth inning and helped hired gun David Cone defeat the Oakland Athletics, 3-1, in the second game of the American League Championship Series.

The playoff stands even as both teams head to the West Coast for the middle three games of the best-of-seven series. The Blue Jays had to win and they did, thanks to Gruber and a strong eight innings from Cone, who has done nothing but justify the deal that brought him to Toronto in late August.

"These guys have played so well all year, it's a good feeling to contribute," said Gruber, who has been fighting a sore throat and fever all week. "It's good to be able to take a little weight off their shoulders."

That weight was getting heavier by the inning last night. Cone was locked in a scoreless duel with A's starter Mike Moore when Gruber, with a man on, launched a line drive over the left-field fence for the first postseason home run of his career. He also delivered a leadoff double in the seventh and scored an important insurance run.

Gruber picked a good time to assert himself. He had struggled through the regular season, fighting a losing battle against injuries and inconsistency to finish with a .229 average, 11 home runs and 43 RBI. But when Moore got the ball up in the strike zone in the fifth, Gruber made everyone remember why he was a strong candidate for the league's Most Valuable Player Award in 1990.

"To have Kelly come through in a big way like that after the struggles he has had this year was very big," Cone said. "You just had a feeling that he was going to be the one to step up at some time in this series."

The Blue Jays just had a feeling that Cone could make the difference between a division championship and a World Series appearance. That's why they sent promising infielder Jeff Kent and another prospect to the New York Mets in late August to put him in their rotation.

He took a shutout into the ninth inning before giving up a leadoff triple to Ruben Sierra and giving way to relief stopper Tom Henke, who allowed the inherited runner to score before recording his first postseason save.

It was a pressure-packed game for Cone, who had to take the mound on the heels of a disheartening defeat in the opener at SkyDome. The Blue Jays had lost with big-game hunter Jack Morris on the mound, which made Game 2 a must-win affair.

"It was a huge game for us," Cone said afterward. "Naturally, when you have the home-field advantage and you lose the first game, that is going to put more pressure on you. I would put this right up there with Game 6 of the playoffs with the Mets in '87. We were on the brink of elimination and there was a lot of adversity in that series, too."

Cone pitched a five-hitter to win that one. He struck out six and walked three last night on the way to his second postseason victory, but there were a couple of junctures where it was better to be lucky than good.

The A's were robbed by circumstance in the third inning and again in the fifth, missing opportunities to take the lead on both occasions because the ball quite literally did not bounce their way.

Willie Wilson led off the third with a long fly ball that sailed over the head of center fielder Devon White and took a high hop over the fence for a ground-rule double. The AstroTurf bounce was no surprise, but it still cost Wilson an important base, because he was flying around second when the ball settled into the bleachers.

Moments later, Mike Bordick popped up on a hit-and-run play and the A's went on to squander their first chance to break through against Cone.

The fifth inning took an even stranger turn. The A's pulled off a double steal with one out and appeared to score a run when Cone bounced an apparent wild pitch off the shin guard of catcher Pat Borders. Wilson raced around third on the play and would have scored if the ball had not dribbled into the Blue Jays' dugout.

Credit Borders with a heads-up play. He chased the ball down and began to make a diving attempt to keep the ball from going out of play, but pulled away at the last moment and let it go. If he had retrieved the ball, Wilson would have scored easily, but he was sent back to third and Bordick (the trailing runner) was sent back to second.

Home-plate umpire Larry Young originally awarded the A's the run, but Gaston challenged the call and third-base umpire Joe Brinkman intervened and overruled it.

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