Playoff twists take turn for weird

JOHN EISENBERG

October 10, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

TORONTO -- And last night the American League playoffs got weird.

Not to mention good.

The White Sox's pole-thin Lance Johnson hit a home run -- his first in 411 days, and only the fifth of his major-league career spanning more than 2,600 at-bats.

The Blue Jays' Tony Fernandez completed a stand-up steal of second while Sox pitcher Jason Bere was standing on the mound with the ball, then had to return to first when the batter hit a foul ball.

The Sox's Tim Raines slid safely into second with a double, then was called out for stepping off the base while Fernandez continued to apply a tag.

That kind of weird.

A Toronto city policeman standing guard in the right-field corner had to leap with a folding chair to avoid an extra-base hit bouncing toward him, causing the Sox's Ellis Burks to misplay the ball.

Bere, who won his last seven regular-season starts, did not finish the third inning.

It took 115 minutes to play the first five innings. (That's 23 minutes per inning, or slightly less than four minutes per out.)

The Blue Jays' Devon White, the best center fielder in the league, loped back to catch an inning-ending fly in the sixth . . . and watched the ball go over his head, giving the Sox the two runs that decided the game.

Many things didn't make sense, appropriate on a day when the temperature dropped 40 degrees outside SkyDome and snow flurries were forecast for today. (Complaints about indoor baseball? Not me. No way. I love indoor baseball.)

Neither John Olerud nor Paul Molitor had a hit, but Lance Johnson had a career-high four RBI.

Weird.

But weirdest of all was the state of the series after the Sox completed their 7-4 win near midnight. In apparent disrepair two games into the series, the Sox are looking particularly sharp after four.

Not only have they come back to tie the series with two wins at SkyDome, but they also have 22-game winner Jack McDowell going today, then 18-game winner Alex Fernandez in Game 6 back in Chicago.

"No one said it was going to be easy," Gaston said. But it was going to be. Remember two days ago?

"Forty-eight percent of the guys in the [Sox] clubhouse are unhappy with the manager," said George "Gallup" Bell in a television interview before the first pitch of Game 3.

How long ago does that seem?

Just when the Sox were about to explode, lefty Wilson Alvarez shut down the Jays in Game 3. The curative powers of pitching never cease to amaze.

The Oakland A's of the early '70s were famous bickerers, but it didn't matter with a rotation including Vida Blue, Catfish Hunter and Blue Moon Odom.

The championship Yankees teams of the late '70s also fought among themselves, but with Hunter and Ron Guidry starting and Goose Gossage finishing, how much could it matter?

The Sox haven't lost a game since they started bickering. Alvarez allowed them to get back on their feet, and they've taken off running.

"If we'd lost, everyone would have said the bickering was the reason," shortstop Ozzie Guillen said. "But we got a bunch of crazy guys in here. We don't care about nothing. We've had controversy all year. People saying we should win by 20 games, stuff like that. We're used to weird stuff."

Stuff like Lance Johnson, homerless all year, going deep in the biggest game of the year.

"I hit all my homers in batting practice," Johnson said. "Every now and then I catch one in a game."

Every now and then, like about once every two seasons.

"It's nice to get to jog every once in a while," he said. "That way I don't lose as much weight."

It was also his ball that went over White's head in the sixth, resulting in a triple.

"Muscles" Johnson.

"I normally don't swing as hard as I can," he said, "but I did tonight and I caught a couple of balls."

It still came down to pitching, though. The Jays solved Bere, but in came Tim Belcher. A 12-game winner on in relief with the bases loaded and one out.

"I was as surprised as anyone," said Belcher, a lifelong starter. "That's a relief situation if there ever was one."

The Jays managed one run the rest of the night. SkyDome grew very quiet.

As the Jays tried to rally in the late innings last night, the question was inevitable: Has a team that was ahead in a series ever been in a more precarious position?

Weird.

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