Jays savor silence of sky not falling

JOHN EISENBERG

October 15, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

TORONTO -- To begin today, for old times' sake, let's tell one last Blow Jay joke.

Whaddya think, a good idea? I thought you'd say that. OK, here goes. (Please try not to get too emotional.)

Why do the Jays play in a dome?

Easy. So they can't see the sky falling.

There. Wasn't that fun?

I'm gonna miss that stuff. I really am.

And you know what? In some bizarre way, I think the people in this splendid town are going to miss it, too. The Jays-as-chokers story line was as familiar and comfortable as the streets where they live. It was like an extra child in every family.

dTC What are they going to complain about now when they're finished complaining about the United States and the price of SkyDome?

Why, even though the Jays were within one win of knocking out the A's in the American League playoffs before yesterday's game, everyone was still checking the sky for falling clouds.

Said the sweet, matronly customs agent to the American sportswriter (blush) arriving at the airport yesterday morning: "So, do you really think they're going to choke again after all?"

Said the waiter at the Chinese restaurant at lunchtime, as a cold drizzle coated downtown and you could swear there was this quiet edginess on the streets: "If it happens again now, I don't know what."

Well, they can all rest easy now, the millions of Canadian Chicken Littles. It sure doesn't look like the Blue Jays blew it this time.

"Everyone kept saying that we were going to choke in the end," said the Jays' Roberto Alomar. "Well, we didn't."

No, they didn't. They delivered a 9-2 head-butt yesterday to win the series in six games, and a funny thing happened: While everyone was waiting for the Jays to do their famous knee-buckle, the A's melted under the pressure. Just like the wicked witch they used to be.

Rickey Henderson dropped a routine fly, struck out twice with four runners on base and committed a ninth-grade mistake by stepping out of the batter's box at the last moment on a hit-and-run, giving away the gambit.

Mike Moore, the starting pitcher, littered the strike zone with high fastballs and hanging curveballs in a classic how-not-to big-game performance. He gave up home runs of 405 and 424 feet, a foul job of at least 450, and left down six runs.

Even manager Tony La Russa melted down. He had Moore walk Dave Winfield to get to John Olerud in the third -- much too early for an intentional walk -- and Olerud doubled in a run. The next batter, Candy Maldonado, hit a three-run homer.

"Choke" is not a word to be tossed around casually, but since they've brought it up here, let's look at how some of the big-ticket A's performed in the series:

Mark McGwire, the big bopper, hit .150. Dennis Eckersley, the perfect closer, gave up a killing home run to Alomar in Game 4, effectively losing the series. Henderson, the self-proclaimed "greatest of all time," hit the quietest .261 of all time.

Mike Bordick, a .300 hitter during the season, hit .053. Willie Wilson hit .227, Carney Lansford .167. The Jays' .281 team average was 25 points higher than what A's pitchers allowed during the season.

Ruben (Jose Who?) Sierra and Dave Stewart were superb, but otherwise, the A's had blowouts all over the place. Meanwhile, virtually every Jay of consequence had a big moment. Or three.

"We've got eight, nine, 11 guys who can beat you," the Jays' Joe Carter said. "That's what this series was all about."

Alomar hit .423 and had that huge home run. Olerud and Devon White batted .348, Pat Borders .318. Juan Guzman won twice. David Cone won Game 2 with a magnificent performance. Kelly Gruber hit the deciding homer in Game 2. Carter hit a 2-run homer to start the blowout yesterday. Maldonado clinched it with that 3-run homer. Even Manny Lee had a big double in Game 4.

On the mound in the end was closer Tom Henke, one of the few Jays still around from the pre-ghostbusting days, when the team blew division titles and playoff series almost every year.

"I was emotional as hell out there," Henke said. "We were way ahead, so I could concentrate on the moment. The noise almost knocked me off the mound."

It was the sound of the sky, incredibly, staying put.

"Does this take some of the pressure off you guys?" someone asked Joe Carter.

"Oh, no, not at all," he said. "The past didn't put any pressure on us at all."

He stopped. A big smile spread across his face.

"Are you kidding me?" he said.

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