ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Braves may be America's Team, but the Toronto Blue Jays, who henceforth will be known as Canada's Team, are a slight favorite to take the World Series championship north of the border.
The 89th World Series will be the first to venture outside of the contiguous 48 states, but the Blue Jays must overcome the Braves' home-country advantage in the first two games at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
They figure to come in with a psychological advantage. Right-hander Jack Morris will pitch for the Blue Jays in Game 1, and no one has to remind the Braves what he did the last time he faced them in the World Series.
Morris went 10 innings to shut out Atlanta in Game 7 last year to carry the Minnesota Twins to their second World Series title in five seasons.
"That was last year," Morris said yesterday. "It was a whole different set of circumstances. Who has the advantage? I don't have an answer. They saw me three times [last year], so I think it will come down to who executes."
He'll get no argument from an Atlanta club that might have won Game 7 if not for a base-running mistake by Lonnie Smith in the ninth inning.
"Jack gave us some opportunities to score, and we didn't take advantage," first baseman David Justice said. "We can't do that this time. We have to take advantage of every opportunity."
Atlanta will be looking for its first world title in any professional sport, and the Braves could be at a disadvantage if this turns out to be a pitching battle. Their pitching staff was pushed to the limit in the heart-stopping National League Championship Series, leaving manager Bobby Cox to scramble. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, remain on schedule with a deep starting rotation.
Morris and right-hander David Cone, who struggled on three days rest in their second starts in the American League playoffs, each will have had five days to get ready for Games 1 and 2. Cox used his three top starters in the final two games of the NL playoffs, which ended with Wednesday night's dramatic ninth-inning victory.
Left-hander Tom Glavine will come back on three days rest to start Game 1 for the Braves, but arm strength will not be his main concern. He won 20 games for the second season in a row, but he still needs to prove he can pitch effectively in big-game situations, something he did not do in the playoffs.
Glavine lost both of his playoff starts and suffered through a record-breaking eight-run second inning in Game 6. He might win the Cy Young Award for the second year in a row, but his performance in prime time this year [including an ugly inning in the All-Star Game] has tarnished his national reputation.
"I'm just happy to get back out there right away," said Glavine, who is 1-5 in postseason play during the past two seasons. "I want to get out there and show people that I'm a better pitcher than they saw the other night."
Morris, similarly, did not pitch well in his most recent playoff start, giving up five runs in the third inning of Game 4 and getting off the hook only because the Blue Jays staged a late-inning comeback against Oakland A's stopper Dennis Eckersley.
The three-man rotation came under fire when Cone struggled on three days rest, prompting manager Cito Gaston to consider adding either Jimmy Key or Todd Stottlemyre to the World Series rotation. He said he will announce today whether he'll do that or go with Morris, Cone and Juan Guzman again.
"I'm leaning toward a four-man rotation," Gaston said, "but I want to sit down with our scouts and talk about it. This is a team thing. We all work together, though I know that I probably have the last word. I'm the one who will take the heat if things go badly."
Morris pitched three times in the 1991 Series and still was strong enough to go 10 in the final. He said he could do it again.
"I think I'm physically strong enough," he said. "We're in the same time zone, so I don't think it will be a big problem."
If Gaston goes with a four-man rotation and the Series goes the distance, Guzman would be the starter in Game 7. He doesn't have Morris' reputation as a postseason warhorse, but he has started three playoff games during the past two seasons and he won all three -- including a pressure-packed Game 6 on Wednesday.
Both teams reached an emotional peak on Wednesday, but the Blue Jays have every reason to be light on their feet when they take the field tonight. The pressure is off. They have shaken a seven-year glitch that featured three unsuccessful trips to the playoffs. The Braves are playing in their second straight World Series, so there will be pressure to take the next step, though they also have to be happy just to be alive after Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Doug Drabek took a shutout bid into the final inning of Wednesday night's game.