AL series now favors A's or is it Jays? With playoffs tied, 1-1, each team makes a case

October 10, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

OAKLAND, CALIF — OAKLAND, Calif. -- The American League Championship

Series has gone west, and with it the home-field advantage to the Oakland Athletics. But who really has the edge as the A's and Toronto Blue Jays come down to a best-of-five playoff to represent their league in the World Series?

Who knows? There are so many intervening variables that it has become impossible to predict which way the series will turn when Blue Jays right-hander Juan Guzman takes the mound against Oakland's Ron Darling today in Game 3 at the Oakland Coliseum.

The Blue Jays have to feel a little relieved to have the series even at a game apiece after losing the opener at SkyDome. The A's have to be happy to come away with a split in Toronto, which puts them in position to take control of the series at home. So, everybody's happy. What now?

"We still have a tough battle to go, three games out there," said Blue Jays right-hander David Cone, after he won a pressure-packed Game 2 to even the series Thursday night, "but now we have the confidence to keep going."

Now it is up to Guzman, whose confidence has returned along with his blazing fastball after a troubling bout with elbow soreness latein the regular season. When he is on his game, he is nearly unhitable, and he is coming off a strong performance against the Detroit Tigers.

There is little question that the 25-year-old right-hander has the ability to turn the series in the direction of the Blue Jays, but you can also make a strong case for Darling, who has far more postseason experience to draw on. You can go back and forth with the teams, too.

The case for the Blue Jays: The victory on Thursday night not only evened the series, it ended a playoff losing streak at SkyDome that dated to Game 3 of the 1989 ALCS against the A's. Considering the cult of postseason negativity that had grown around the team in Toronto, it was an important turn of events.

The case for the A's: The home-field advantage has become pronounced in baseball's postseason tournament, and the A's play the next three games on their turf. If they win two of three, they'll go back to SkyDome needing another split to win the pennant. That's simple mathematics, but the pressure on the Blue Jays in such a scenario would be tremendous.

The case for the Blue Jays: Jack Morris pitched well enough to win in Game 1, and Cone was dominating in Game 2. The Blue Jays three-man rotation brings them back in a hurry. Morris will pitch again tomorrow, so the heat would appear to be on the A's.

The case for the A's: The A's defeated Morris and pushed him nine innings, which could take a toll when he comes back on short rest to pitch tomorrow against right-hander Bob Welch. Welch will be wellrested.

The case for the Blue Jays: The Jays clearly have the superior offensive lineup, especially if Kelly Gruber is really back and A's outfielder Rickey Henderson continues to mail in his performance at the plate.

The case for the A's: The A's clearly are motivated to make the most of what could be the last hurrah for more than a dozen potential free agents. They have been almost grim in their determination to go out on top.

Darling is coming off his first winning season since 1988, when he pitched alongside Cone for the NL East champion New York Mets. He is 15-10 with a 3.66 ERA in his first -- and perhaps last -- full season with the A's, and he seems to be taking this "last roundup" stuff pretty seriously.

"I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that -- you hate to say it -- this could be the last go-around or last hurrah," Darling said. "I know this team will be substantially different next year, and I think what that has done is put everyone in a bad mood. We really want to win this thing, and I think everyone is trying to own up to the responsibility. There aren't too many smiles that come with that kind of thinking. Whatever you call it, the eye of the tiger or whatever cliche you want to use, this team has more of it than any other."

That showed in Game 2, when the A's tried to counter the strong performance by Cone with a reckless running game. They stole six bases and a couple of runners were thrown out on unorthodox plays, but they served notice that they were not going to go down without a do-or-die effort.

Darling has recent history on his side. He took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning and pitched a two-hit shutout against the Blue Jays the last time he faced them (July 25).

"You always feel better going against a team you've had success against," he said, "but you also remember those games you did not do so well. The first start I had against them this year against Todd Stottlemyre was not very good. They hit me pretty hard. If I don't make my pitches, I'm going to be in trouble with that lineup."

Guzman also has his share of success against the A's, but with a career 26-8 record, there can't be many teams he hasn't pitched well against. He faced them three times this year and did not give up more than three runs in any of those starts.

"He is one of the best young pitchers in the game," Darling said. When you put Juan in the computer, it rings bells. When you put me in a computer, it spits me out. But luckily, baseball is not played with a computer."

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