Quiet Baines speaks loudly with his bat Wednesday homer in 9th saves day for Athletics

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

TORONTO -- It was Harold Baines' moment of glory, and he wanted no part of it.

Baines launched a second-deck shot to right field off Jack Morris in the ninth inning Wednesday night to win Game 1 of the American League Championship Series for the Oakland Athletics. The 4-3 victory at SkyDome put the Toronto Blue Jays under the gun and put Baines in the spotlight -- just where he didn't want to be.

"This is the hardest thing about baseball -- trying to explain what you do," said the sheepish Baines, "because I don't put that up on a pedestal. I don't like it, but I recognize that it's the way things are."

He is one of baseball's quiet men. He talks softly and carries a big stick, or at least he carried one for most of a productive major-league career. That productivity had come into question at times this year, but there was no question about the impact he has made on this best-of-seven playoff series.

The home run left the Blue Jays in a difficult position. They went into last night's Game 2 in a must-win situation after seducing their fans with an abortive late-inning comeback in Game 1. They rode an emotional roller coaster, and Baines let them off in the wrong place.

He would admit that it was the biggest home run of his career. It had to be. He never had hit one in postseason play. He would say that it was an exciting moment, but you never would have known it by looking at him.

"That's the way he always is," said Dave Stewart, whose strong 7 2/3 -inning performance almost carried the A's to victory without any ninth-inning help. Almost.

Stewart left with a lead in the eighth inning, but right-hander Jeff Russell came on to give up a dramatic game-tying single to Blue Jays first baseman John Olerud. That brought the sellout crowd of 51,039 back into the game and seemed to turn the momentum in favor of Toronto, but Baines made it quiet again.

When the game was over, he reluctantly huddled with reporters and explained himself, though it was obvious that he would have been happier to leave that part of the job to Mark McGwire, who also hit a mammoth homer Wednesday night, or Stewart, who

continued to

build on his reputation as one of the game's best "money" pitchers.

This is nothing new. Baines has taken the same approach since he left his hometown of St. Michaels, Md., to join the Chicago White Sox organization in 1977. Take it from someone who knows.

"He hasn't changed since the day he signed," said Orioles general manager Roland Hemond, who was with the White Sox when they made Baines the No. 1 pick in the country that year. "He's very quiet. He's a dedicated player, but always very unassuming and humble. He just goes out and does his job. I was watching the game on television and I leapt out of my seat when he hit the home run. I was really overjoyed for him."

For the moment, Baines is making a case for a return engagement in Oakland. He hit 16 homers and drove in 76 runs this season. He had three hits in the first game of the playoffs. He just doesn't want to talk about it.

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