Blue Jays' Key gets turn in his possible farewell Free agency looms for left-hander

October 21, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Manager Bobby Cox made it official last night that the Atlanta 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 a game 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 starting rotation when manager Cito Gaston decided to use three starters in the American League Championship Series.

Adding to the intrigue is the distinct possibility that tonight will be Key's last game with the Blue Jays. 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."

Key said he had no problem with Gaston's decision to drop him from the rotation against Oakland. "I understood what they were trying to do," said Key, who has a 5-8 career record against the Athletics. "They have an all right-handed hitting lineup, except for [Harold] Baines.

"I felt I deserved a chance to start, but I understood the decision. You have to consider the quality of the pitchers involved -- you have two of the premier pitchers in the game [Jack Morris and David Cone] and maybe the best young pitcher in the game [Juan Guzman]."

Coincidentally, Key will make his first World Series start against his first big-league manager, Cox, a man he credits with being instrumental in his career.

"He was the one who had the confidence to bring me to the big leagues," said Key. "He was always in my corner, and he was an easy manager to pitch for -- if he believes in you, he'll keep putting you out there."

Which is exactly what Cox is doing with his Game 4 starter, left-hander Tom Glavine, whom he has often compared with Key. The Braves have used only three starters in their 10 postseason games, and Cox said last night that won't change. He was asked why he made the decision to use only 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."

Cox waited until after Glavine threw on Monday's off-day before making the commitment he was leaning toward all along. "He had a good side session, and said he was ready," said Cox. "That's all I needed."

Asked if he thought a pitcher, under the circumstances, would say he wasn't ready, Cox admitted he didn't. "I think they'd say they were OK, but there's ways of telling.

"How they throw [on the sidelines] is the key. It's their stuff that makes the decision for you."

For his part, Glavine said the two-week layoff he had in September because of a sore rib cage turned out to be a benefit. "I would have rather it hadn't happened," said the 1991 National League Cy Young winner, "but now I'd have to say the rest has helped me.

"We haven't had to pitch on three days' rest very often, so it is not much of a problem. I think we've all gotten used to it."

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