Blue Jays don't get what they paid for

JOHN EISENBERG

October 23, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

TORONTO -- As they say in baseball these days, there goes that $5 million down the drain. . .

OK, OK, that's going too far. The Blue Jays gave Jack Morris $5 million this year for one reason only -- to win the World Series -- and they wouldn't be this close had he not won those 21 regular-season games.

But there he was last night on the mound for Game 5 of the Series, with his shimmering postseason record, a reputation as the game's top pressure pitcher and a chance to do just what the Jays had asked him to do: wrap up a Series title. It was even a home game. A perfect setup. And he was perfectly awful. Miserable.

Even worse than that.

He was all glower and moustache and mystique, but no fastball or curveball or forkball.

He was a poor man's imitation of the Jack who made the Series his own last year. A poor man's imitation, but, of course, not a poor man.

When Morris left the mound in the fifth inning last night, having just allowed a grand slam to Lonnie Smith that gave the Braves a 7-2 lead, his 1992 postseason statistics were finalized as the following: an 0-3 record, a 7.43 ERA. Tony Arnold, where are you?

One man's reputation hasn't fallen this fast in one night since Lloyd Bentsen turned to Dan Quayle and said, "I knew Jack Kennedy. . . "

Actually, it didn't just happen in one night. Morris also gave up the game-losing homer in Game 1 to the Braves' fabulous Damon Berryhill, whose Series numbers aside from that one swing now rest at .059, 0 RBI, 10 strikeouts. Talk about giving one away.

The Jays gave Morris all that money hoping he would win the Series for them, but it turns out they're having to win it in spite of him. As Pirates manager Jim Leyland once said: "The rainbow ain't green."

Not that the Jays blew it by signing him. Anything but. He was only the essential difference in a division race that was much tighter than expected, winning nine games in the last two months. But his 4.06 ERA was evidence that he was far from commanding. And now, in the playoffs, he has constantly fallen behind hitters and had to pitch in trouble.

What gives? As you may know, the opinion all along here has been that he lacks the fire of a year ago, that he doesn't have anything left to prove in the postseason after his Series performance of a year ago, which was as triumphant as any Olivier ever gave. Whether or not that's true, and it's hard to prove, there is no doubting that he isn't nearly the same pitcher.

Anyone expecting him to dominate the Braves last night as he did in Game 7 last year was pipe-dreaming, indulging in sheer whimsy. Everyone in both clubhouses was still talking about Nasty Jack, Mr. Postseason himself, but it was just hype.

The Braves' Otis Nixon doubled down the left-field line on Morris' first pitch. Terry Pendleton knocked him in and the Braves had an early lead. He gave up another run on a long David Justice homer in the fourth.

The Blue Jays still had him in the game at 2-2 into the fifth, though, but there he came undone after getting the first two batters out. Nixon singled and stole second, and Deion Sanders singled him in. Pendleton doubled to right. It was the eighth hit Morris had allowed, and Jays manager Cito Gaston went to the mound for a talk. But he kept Morris in. Footnote: Cito will be crucified on the talk-shows today.

Anyway, Justice was intentionally walked, and suddenly there was a delicious moment with Smith at the plate, the bases loaded and two outs. It was last year's Series hero against last year's Series goat. Morris' fourth pitch landed five rows into the right-field stands.

Now the Jays have to close out the Braves on the road, and if you saw Game 7 of the National League playoffs, you know the Braves won't go down easily. That was a wide-open window of opportunity last night. We will see if the Jays rue their inability to close it.

"All I can do now," Morris said, "is give the ball over to two [starters] who are pitching better than I am. What can I say? The Braves have seen me a lot in these last two Series. After awhile, the advantage has to switch, I guess."

Morris actually heard a few boos as he left the mound, with Smith being mobbed in the Braves dugout. Could there be a more diametric role reversal? But if you think it's all a lesson about money not buying everything, forget it. Hired Gun I let down the Jays, but now they can turn right to Hired Gun II, David Cone, who will start Game 6. As the Boy Scouts say, it's always best to be prepared.

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