If Dennis is no menace, yes, even Jays can win

Ken Rosenthal

October 12, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Welcome back to the sport where nothing is automatic, the sport measured not in time but outs, the sport that humbles even its greatest stars.

The Eck blew it.

Perot wins the election.

The Eck blew it.

Anything is possible now.

Imagine a team making four errors and recording the greatest triumph of its 16-year history. The Toronto Blue Jays did just that yesterday, in an earthquake of a game.

The Jays trailed Oakland 6-1 in the eighth inning with Dennis Eckersley warming in the bullpen. They won 7-6 in 11 innings with a comeback that defied rational thought.

The Eck blew it. The future Hall of Famer. The likely Cy Young and MVP winner. The invincible closer who couldn't remember the last time he had been hit as hard.

Trailing three games to one, the A's can forget about winning the American League Championship Series. Eckersley didn't expect to sleep last night. He had overdosed on krypton.

First, the back-to-back RBI singles by John Olerud and Candy Mal

donado in the eighth. Then the game-tying, two-run homer by Roberto Alomar in the ninth.

Is his arm sore? That was the first question. Eckersley said no, but admitted he wasn't throwing as hard. "I couldn't stop the bleeding," he said, sounding almost helpless.

Why did manager Tony La Russa summon him with two on and none out in the eighth? Because even with a 6-2 lead, he had no other choice. It was a save situation. The tying run was on deck.

The A's had again overcome Jack Morris. They were in position to tie the series. And La Russa couldn't trust his other relievers, who have allowed seven runs the past two games.

Besides, Eckersley had pitched two innings seven times in the regular season. Converted 51 of 54 save opportunities. Allowed only two of 31 inherited runners to score.

He seemed a fairly safe bet.

In fact, his shocking failure yesterday provided the most convincing evidence yet of why he should be MVP. It's now painfully clear how important he is to this Oakland team.

The A's were 82-1 with a lead entering the ninth inning this season. They still led 6-4 at that point yesterday, even after the stunning turn of events in the eighth.

That was the crazy thing -- the Jays got to Eck not once, but twice. He allowed the singles by Olerud and Maldonado on his first two pitches, but escaped the eighth by retiring the side.

Who knew what would happen next? Eckersley appeared in control. He pumped his fist and stared into the Toronto dugout after striking out pinch hitter Ed Sprague for the final out.

"I thought it was all over," he said. "Little did I know what was in store."

Devon White opened the ninth with a sinking line drive to left. It looked to be only a single, but Rickey Henderson bungled an attempted shoestring catch, and White raced to third.

Alomar was next. He already was 3-for-3 with a walk, but was 0-for-6 lifetime off Eckersley. The count ran to 2-2. Eckersley wanted to throw a slider down and away. It went up and in.

As soon as he connected, Alomar threw his arms up in the air signaling home run. The Jays mobbed him before he returned to the dugout, delighted to extract their revenge.

For Eckersley, Alomar's homer wasn't as crushing as Kirk Gibson's in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series -- "A walk-job, there's nothing like that." Still, the overall effect was numbing.

With the score tied, he retired Joe Carter and Dave Winfield. But after another single by Olerud, La Russa removed him from an inning for the first time since May 1991.

The five hits he allowed not only were a season-high, they matched his total for the month of July. "I don't even know what to say," he said. "I don't know how I'm supposed to handle it."

It wasn't all his fault -- the other relievers were awful, the A's made two more errors and pinch runner Eric Fox got thrown out at home on a contact play in the 10th.

But a guy who should know, Eckersley's teammate Rich Gossage, said, "That's life as a reliever. You're in the castle or the outhouse."

Eckersley, of course, practically owns the castle. He's a noble emperor too, and he answered every question after sinking to the dungeon, searching for his own explanations.

"Hey, what are you going to do?" he asked. "To be as successful as I've been, for me to sit here and get crazy, it wouldn't be very grateful. I can't throw everything away because of one ballgame."

Still, he paced "all over the place" during the extra innings while watching the game on the clubhouse TV. He said he was so depressed, "My wife isn't going to like me tonight."

The Eck blew it.

Someone do a recount.

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