Jays can junk jinx by winning Series

JOHN EISENBERG

October 16, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

TORONTO -- Not to poop the hellzapoppin' party that erupted here when the Blue Jays finally chugged their way to the American League pennant the other day, but does anyone really think it means their big-game jinx is forever behind them?

Better think again.

Sure, the Jays have finally delivered a no-choke season in outlasting the Brewers and Orioles, then beating the A's. They were baseball's best in September and all backbone in crunching the A's with comebacks.

But you can file this one under "Life: Unfair": Until they win a World Series, the Jays will continue to be lumped with the other teams suffering from a pressure pox. Yes, even after such a season. No, it's not fair. But what is?

Just ask the Red Sox. Just ask the Cubs.

The unflagging lesson of those ultimately unfortunate clubs is that the Jays must beat the Braves and win the Series to be truly, utterly and once and for all rid of their evil alter ego, the Blow Jays.

Did the Red Sox escape the clutches of their famous jinx by staging a fantastic comeback to beat the Angels and win the BTC pennant in 1986? No. In fact, that victory serves as a cautionary tale today.

Just when the Sox appeared to be conquering the postseason demons that had cursed them since they last won the World Series in 1918, they suffered their most blood-curdling loss of all in the Series. With Bill Buckner starring as the wicket, their down-to-the-last-out loss reaffirmed the potency of whatever evil it is that has them by the throat.

Winning that pennant was an accomplishment for the Sox, and certainly better than finishing last as they did this year, but, in the end, the Sox succeeded only in enhancing the famed "Curse of the Bambino." Six years later, they are still counted among pro sports' great pathological losers.

Memo to Jays: Beware.

The Red Sox have twice won the league playoffs to reach the Series. They have played in four Series since last winning the thing in 1918.

But look what happened: Just getting there was not enough.

The Cubs have reached the Series seven times since last winning it, in 1908. But did just getting there enable them to untie the "warm, fuzzy loser" tag affixed to their toes? No.

Memo to Jays: Don't open your eyes just yet.

Now, some might wonder if the Jays, just a teen-age franchise in their 16th year, have stored up enough horrors to pledge this fraternity. But in a six-year span starting in 1985, they blew a 3-1 lead in the playoffs, blew a 3 1/2 -game lead in the last week of the season, and twice more got blown out in the playoffs.

The assessment here is that they more than qualified as the new (misfiring) gun in town.

Considering that backdrop, this will always be a milepost season here no matter what happens against the Braves. You have to undo your curses one at a time, and foremost on the Jays' list was not making the Series.

Even a Series loss will not undo the warm accomplishment of finally winning a postseason series and bringing the Series to Canada and, most important, proving they always don't choke.

Said Juan Guzman, the Jays' pennant-clinching pitcher: "We finally put that choking stuff behind us."

But see, this isn't about choking. It's just about not winning. You don't have to choke to lose. The Red Sox didn't choke in the 1967 Series or the 1975 Series. They just didn't win. And, as Yogi might say, "a loser is a loser until he wins."

Unfair? Well, sure. "Loser" is very much a relative term in these circumstances. The Rangers and Mariners have never played a postseason game. The Indians have finished almost 800 games out of first place since last winning a pennant in 1954. Those clubs would dearly love to trade problems with the Jays.

"We haven't won a World Series," Roberto Alomar said, "but at least we get to play in one."

Of course, the players are the wrong people to talk about this extraterrestrial stuff. When you're trying to solve Dennis Eckersley's slider, you can't sit around worrying about what happened last week, much less a decade ago, or when Teddy Roosevelt was president.

But let's face it: For whatever reason, maybe just life its ownself, there are teams out there with death wishes. The Sox and Cubs. The Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings. The New York Rangers. We thought the Jays were another. Maybe they aren't.

But what happens if the Braves sweep?

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