OAKLAND, Calif. -- It isn't unusual for Dennis Eckersley to pump his fist after an important strikeout, but yesterday he went a step further. He stared into the Toronto dugout, provoking a response he surely regrets.
The Blue Jays not only screamed back, they stormed back, completing their rally from a five-run deficit to tie the score 6-6 on Roberto Alomar's two-run homer off Eckersley in the ninth inning.
Eckersley lasted only three more batters, but the Blue Jays could not be stopped. They moved within one victory of the World Series, winning Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, 7-6 in 11 innings.
"Old Eck stuck it in our face and gave us reason to be happy as hell when we came back," said Toronto starter Jack Morris, who also took the liberty of describing Eckersley's conduct as "Little League."
Not everyone in the Blue Jays clubhouse echoed Morris' sentiments -- "he's a competitor and just wants to do his best and win," Alomar said -- but the dugout was in an uproar over Eckersley's histrionics at the end of the eighth inning.
Eckersley gave up back-to-back RBI singles upon entering the game, then retired his next three batters. The final out was a strikeout of pinch-hitter Ed Sprague. It was then that Eckersley went into his premature celebration.
"I hope you guys didn't have a mike on in the dugout as the guys responded," Dave Winfield said, indicating that the Blue Jays perhaps used language that was not consistent with family values.
The ill will between Eckersley and Toronto dates to the 1989 ALCS, when Jays manager Cito Gaston accused Eckersley of doctoring the ball. The Blue Jays, like many teams, still suspect that Eckersley cheats.
The issue, of course, never arose yesterday, and Morris found the victory satisfying for other reasons.
"You let sleeping giants lie," he said. "The poor guy wouldn't look over [after Alomar's homer] like he did when he struck the guy out."
For his part, Eckersley is aware he would never win a popularity contest in the Toronto clubhouse. But he defended his actions the same way he always does, claiming he was just psyching himself for the ninth.
"They don't like me anyway," Eckersley said. "I'm trying to get myself geared up. If they take it that way, I don't mean anything by it. They got me good enough. They got the payback, right? They can gloat in that, while I eat crow."