Gruber, Olerud give Key two going-away presents

October 22, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

TORONTO -- It was almost as if Jimmy Key got three going-away presents here last night -- just in case he was pitching his last game for the Toronto Blue Jays.

There has been widespread speculation that Key, who is eligible for free agency this year, will not be re-signed. If that is the case, then he left a lasting impression by pitching 7 2/3 masterful innings in a tense 2-1 win over the Atlanta Braves in Game 4 of the World Series.

It didn't go unappreciated -- by the 52,090 spectators in attendance, third baseman Kelly Gruber or first baseman John Olerud.

It was the reaction of the crowd when he left with two outs in the eighth inning that set Key's mind to wandering. "I didn't think about it [the possibility of pitching his last game for the Blue Jays] while I was out there," said the classy left-hander. "But I did, for some reason, when I walked off the mound I really thought about it.

"That's why I waved my hat to the crowd. I don't usually do that, but they were great. It was a special moment for me and I'll never forget it."

Neither will he soon forget the two outstanding defensive plays, by Gruber and Olerud, that enabled the Blue Jays to withstand an eighth-inning threat by the Braves. Gruber made his play on the last pitch Key threw -- a sharp bouncer through the middle that the pitcher deflected to the left side of the infield.

"He [Mark Lemke] hit it sharply, but I thought I had it," said Key. "It hit the slope of the mound and we were fortunate the ball went where Kelly could make a great [barehanded] play."

It was the next play, after Otis Nixon had reached first while striking out on a wild pitch from reliever Duane Ward, that sealed the fate of the Braves. That one was made by Olerud and left Atlanta manager Bobby Cox wondering, not how it was made -- but why.

"He hit a bullet right down the line and Olerud made a great play," said Cox. "I'm still trying to figure that one out."

The inference was clear -- that Olerud might have been playing out of position for Blauser, a right-hander who is considered a pull hitter. But, even though Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston indicated Olerud was following standard procedure by guarding the foul line against an extra-base hit, the memory of what happened the night before probably was more instrumental.

"Late in the game, we always play the lines," said Gaston. "That is just our style, and John made a great play."

Blue Jays coach Rich Hacker is responsible for positioning the defense. And something he saw the night before might have had just enough influence to affect Olerud's position.

"A lot of it has to do with Ward," said Hacker. "A lot of times both left-handers and right-handers will hit the ball the other way against him.

"And remember, Blauser had gotten a hit to right field off [Juan] Guzman last [Tuesday] night. So we knew he had the ability to adjust.

"John looked into the dugout and I signaled for him to stay right where he was, not to give away too much ground over there," said Hacker.

There was one other significant aspect to the play.

Nixon had stolen second uncontested, with the Blue Jays conceding the base rather than open up a hole by having either shortstop Manuel Lee or second baseman Roberto Alomar cover the base.

The move enabled the Braves to move the potential winning run into scoring position -- and Olerud to play his position at regular depth. Had he been holding Nixon at first, he would've been closer to the ball -- but he also would've been moving in the opposite direction and might not have had a chance to react.

This World Series has revolved around those kind of plays -- and left the Braves in an unusual, and tenuous, position. They have been outscored by one run, but trail by two games and are one defeat away from elimination.


The Atlanta Braves will try to become the seventh team to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series:

Year Result

1903 Boston (AL) 5,

Pittsburgh (NL) 3

1925 Pittsburgh (NL) 4,

Washington (AL) 3

1958 New York (AL) 4,

Milwaukee (NL) 3

1968 Detroit (AL) 4,

St. Louis (NL) 3

1979 Pittsburgh (NL) 4,

Baltimore (AL) 3

1985 Kansas City (AL) 4,

St. Louis (NL) 3

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