Yanks clinch bit of respect, crashing party in Toronto

September 27, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Under the circumstances, the New York Yankees and Orioles got the only consolation left for them this season. They will be spared watching the Toronto Blue Jays clinch their third straight American League East title.

The Yankees took care of their end of that piece of business here yesterday with a 7-3 victory over the Blue Jays that left the magic number at one and ruined a citywide celebration in LTC Toronto last night. The Orioles offered no such resistance, losing a doubleheader to the Detroit Tigers to eliminate themselves.

"Nobody wants to be swept away in a series and see a team clinch the division in front of you," said Yankees left-hander Jim Abbott (11-13), yesterday's winning pitcher. "I was with the Angels last year when they [the Blue Jays] clinched, and even though they weren't in our division, it's not a good feeling to see a team have a big party in front of you."

For Paul Molitor, yesterday's loss likely produced a bittersweet feeling. The next stop on Toronto's journey into the postseason is Milwaukee, which was Molitor's home for the first 15 years of his big-league career.

"I've tried not to think about it [clinching in Milwaukee]," said the Blue Jays designated hitter, who was signed as a free agent during the winter. "You think about what's the soonest we could win or how great it would be for the fans of Toronto for us to win at home.

"When you think about what we've been through the last couple of weeks, neck and neck, you'd like to do it at home. But it didn't happen, so now the idea is to go out there and take care of it as quick as possible."

Of all the places in the AL East, because of Molitor, Milwaukee undoubtedly would be the most friendly. He is revered in Wisconsin, and the fans there will not soon forgive the Brewers for letting him leave.

But Molitor never has been the gloating kind, and he isn't about to start now. Though they ultimately had some differences, he still has a good relationship with Bud Selig, owner of the Brewers and head of baseball's Executive Council.

In a sense, Molitor is going home, but hardly to bury his past. "There would be some irony to clinching there," he said, "but I have too much respect for the people to say I'll enjoy winning it in Milwaukee more so than anywhere else.

"You just want to clinch, and the sooner the better. Not only for the reality of not having to win any more games, but to get your pitching staff in order for postseason play as soon as possible.

"But it looks like it's going to happen in good, old Brewtown," said Molitor.

As it turns out, one thing Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston doesn't have to worry about is getting his starting rotation in order. Despite a lot of early-season woes and Todd Stottlemyre's rocky outing yesterday, it has emerged as a strong suit during the Blue Jays' September surge.

The defending world champions put together a season-high, nine-game winning streak and have won 12 of their past 14 games. During that stretch, with Dave Stewart stepping up to his normal September pace, the starters have a 2.69 ERA.

Pitching coach Galen Cisco says the improvement has been gradual since the All-Star break. "It was an uphill battle [early]," he said, "but I always thought it would come around. I really did.

"Everybody's been more consistent in the second half, but these last three weeks have been when it really started to go well. It's a lot like last year, when we had a rough August, except for Jack [Morris], and the first of September we took off and stayed that way until the end," said Cisco.

Despite his performance yesterday, when he gave up five runs in the first inning, Stottlemyre has been part of the resurgence. "For the last month, I've been throwing the breaking ball for strikes whenever I had to," said the right-hander.

"I didn't do that today, and maybe I went with the curveball too much in the first inning. I kept getting behind [in the count]."

It was a three-run home run by a player who wasn't supposed to be in the game, Jim Leyritz, that put the finishing touches on the first inning for Stottlemyre (11-11). Leyritz was a late replacement for Paul O'Neill, who has been bothered with a sore elbow for the past week.

Those five early runs put a damper on the festivities for the Blue Jays, who had hoped to have a clinching party at home. It was one of the few things spoiled lately by the Yankees, who broke a five-game losing streak and won for only the sixth time in the past 18 games.

The win enabled them to avoid witnessing a title party, but that's about all. It took them longer than anticipated, perhaps, but the Blue Jays once again have established their superiority.

They just have to chill the champagne a little longer.

PENNANT RACES

Magic number in parentheses

AL EAST

Team ..... ..... W ... L ... Pct. ... GB

y-Toronto (1) ... 90 .. 65 .. .581 ... --

New York ........ 84 .. 72 .. .538 ... 6 1/2

z-Orioles ....... 82 .. 73 .. .529 ... 8

AL WEST

y-Chicago (1) ... 89 .. 66 .. .574 ... --

Texas 82 73 .529 7

NL EAST

Phila. (3) ...... 94 .. 61 .. .606 ... --

Montreal ........ 89 .. 66 .. .574 ... 5

NL WEST

Atlanta (6) .... 100 .. 56 .. .641 ... --

San Fran. ....... 98 .. 57 .. .632 ... 1 1/2

y-clinched tie for division title

z-eliminated

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