Key gets a postseason turn in potential Blue Jays farewell World Series notebook

October 21, 1992|By Jim Henneman and Peter Schmuck | Jim Henneman and Peter Schmuck,Staff Writers

TORONTO -- Atlanta manager Bobby Cox made it official last night that the Braves' World Series hopes will ride on the arms of pitchers working with three days' rest.

For the Toronto Blue Jays, the key is a left-hander who hasn't started in almost three weeks: Jimmy Key. Despite ranking third on Toronto's all-time win list with 116 and going 5-0 in September, Key was bumped from the rotation when manager Cito Gaston decided to use three starters in the American League Championship Series.

Adding to the intrigue is the possibility that tonight will be Key's last game with the club. He is eligible to become a free agent a week after the World Series ends and before Game 3 last night he removed any doubt about whether he would file.

"I'm just going to keep my ears open," said Key. "Any team that wants to talk, I'll listen."

His impending free agency, Key said, would have no effect on his performance. "I know I'll be pitching somewhere next year," he said. "I think there are some teams that could use a left-handed starter."

Of more importance, perhaps, is the fact that Key hasn't started a game since the last week of the regular season. He made adjustments to offset the inactivity.

"I've made a special effort to throw a lot throughout the playoffs [when he made one appearance, pitching three scoreless innings in Game 5]," said Key. "I've thrown the last two days, quite a bit yesterday [Monday] -- enough to keep my strength down.

"Being a control pitcher, it's important not to be too strong. I bank on spotting the ball, and hopefully I've done enough that it [the layoff] won't be a factor."

The Braves, who will start Tom Glavine tonight, have used three starters in their 10 playoff games, and Cox said that won't change. He was asked why he made the decision to stick with three starters.

"My answer to that is, why not?" replied Cox. "Don't forget,

Tommy didn't pitch that many innings in September. He's as strong as an ox."

Gant steps aside

Braves outfielder Ron Gant has averaged 27 home runs and 90 RBI the past three seasons, but he has been absent from the starting lineup the past two games.

Gant was replaced by Deion Sanders for Game 2, but that was so the Braves could try to run on Blue Jays starter David Cone. Gant accepted that, but was surprised to find his name was not on the lineup card again last night.

"I had no idea," said Gant, who hit 32 home runs in 1990 and '91, but had 17 this season. "You never know what he [Cox] is going to do, but as long as we win the World Series, it doesn't matter."

Sanders was back in the No. 2 spot in the lineup last night and went 3-for-4 with a stolen base after reaching base twice and stealing two bases Sunday.

Another apology

Major League Baseball made another public apology for displaying the Canadian flag upside down before Game 2 and went a step further by announcing that a U.S. Marine Corps color guard from Buffalo, N.Y., had "requested the privilege of once again carrying the flag of Canada."

That brought a roar from the sellout crowd, but there were still some humorous responses to the flag flap.

There were T-shirts displaying the American flag upside down with the words "Sorry, eh" below. There were tiny paper flags everywhere -- with the Canadian flag right side up on one side and the American flag upside down on the other.

Deion flap

Sanders broke media silence briefly to counter criticism about his recent attempt to play for the Atlanta Falcons and Braves on the same day. Sanders told Jon Heyman of Newsday that Braves general manager John Schuerholz had damaged his credibility by inferring that Sanders had promised to concentrate exclusively on baseball.

"Nobody said I couldn't play football," Sanders said. "I gave my word that I would play baseball full-time. I don't like him damaging my credibility."

"I don't care what an individual says," Schuerholz said. "I care about the team. I guess I'm unflapped."

Gruber turns it around

When Kelly Gruber grounded out in the third inning last night, he established a record for postseason futility. It was the 23rd straight at-bat without a hit for Gruber, going back to the American League playoffs.

Gruber had to go only to the end of the Blue Jays' bench to find empathy. Teammate Dave Winfield went 0-for-22 in the ALCS and World Series with the New York Yankees in 1981. St. Louis general manager Dal Maxvill, a former shortstop with the Cardinals, also had a share of the old record, going 0-for-22 in the 1968 World Series.

Gruber drew a walk in his second plate appearance in the fifth inning last night, then broke his streak in dramatic fashion. He hit a 3-2 pitch from Steve Avery for a game-tying home run in the eighth inning.

Before the game, Gaston seemed prophetic in saying why he was sticking with Gruber.

"Kelly has had some big hits for us," Gaston said. "You never know. He might come right out tonight and turn it around."

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