Monday was Thanksgiving Day in Canada, and as Canadians gathered at their dinner tables, they had much to be grateful for: the bountiful gifts of Roberto Alomar, the humanity of Dennis Eckersley, and the three-games-to-two lead held by their Toronto Blue Jays as the American League Championship Series returned to Canada for Games 6 and 7.
Monday was also Columbus Day in the U.S., and in commemoration of the quincentennial of Columbus's voyage, the Oakland Athletics, who don't usually lose Championship Series, had discovered a whole new world of inept fielding, rash baserunning and incendiary relief pitching. "We sure didn't look like the A's, did we?" said Eckersley after Game 4 on Sunday. But the A's could at least be grateful that, thanks to a 6-2 victory in Game 5, they were still alive.
When the series started, on Oct. 7, there was so much talk of showdowns, hired guns and the last roundup that one might have thought that the opposing managers were Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. "I know I'm a hired gun," said Toronto (for now) pitcher David Cone, who was acquired from the New York Mets in August even though he can become a free agent in the off-season. "But it beats sitting in my Manhattan apartment, planning a slow Caribbean vacation."
The preponderance of potential free agents on both sides lent a certain finality to the proceedings and put both teams on edge. Said Oakland (for now) pitcher Ron Darling, "We know this team will be substantially different next year, and that has put everyone in a bad mood. We really want to win this thing."
The quickest way to put a Blue Jay in a bad mood was to ask him about his team's Blew Jay past: Toronto lost the playoffs in 1985, '89 and '91. "To hell with history," said Toronto (for now) outfielder Joe Carter. Or, as teammate Candy Maldonado put it, "If I was living in the past, my grandmother would still be alive." Then he added, "The past is in the past."
Despite their previous performances, the Blue Jays were clear favorites. They had the superior lineup and better pitching, plus the presence of postseason ace Jack Morris, who was signed for a fistful of dollars last December, and the world's oldest 100-RBI man, 41-year-old Dave Winfield, who was signed for a few dollars more the day after Morris.
Canadian fans and sports sections were so torn between hope and desperation that it was clear to even a casual observer that the national psyche was at stake. The Toronto Sun actually called on Canadian psychic Anthony Carr for his Game 1 prediction. Carr said that because Morris was a Taurus, the pitcher would be irritated most of the day and that "this could culminate in his blowing the game." Also at stake was the job of manager Cito—rhymes with hotseato—Gaston. Pundits and fans alike worried that he would be overmatched by Oakland's Tony La Russa, and even before the first pitch, Torontonians assumed that if the Jays blew this series, Gaston would be told to be on the next stage out of town
In keeping with the Western theme, these were the first five episodes:
Gunfight at the Blue Jay Corral. What, you might ask, were the two fans in gorilla suits doing in SkyDome's leftfield seats before Game 1? They were holding up a sign that read DAVE WINFIELD SAYS GO BANANAS, and they were tossing bananas, dozens of them, to the crowd. It seems that Winfield, disappointed that Blue Jay fans hadn't been more vociferous during the season, made a public plea for more noise. So, perhaps fueled by the bananas, the Toronto fans, two of whom were film stars Michael J. Fox and John Candy, nearly raised the retractable roof of SkyDome, which remained resolutely closed on a nice night by order of American League president Bobby Brown.
Still, it seemed more like a duel in the sun with Morris, wearing his cowpoke mustache, and his opposing gunslinger, Dave Stewart, on the mound. And when the Jays came from behind in the eighth inning to tie the game at 3-3, the fans were going crazy, Black Jack was in command.... But the psychic was right. Harold Baines led off the ninth by homering on Morris's second pitch, Eckersley closed out the 4-3 A's victory, and the fans headed up the aisles, resigned to defeat once more.