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First, everyone wanted to know about Donscam. Lou, did Mattingly really get hurt wrestling with Bob Shirley? Then there were the trades for Mark Salas and Mike Easier. Are these signs of panic, Lou? And, of course, the looming specter of the owner. Have you talked to Steinbrenner, Lou? Are the coaches taking lie-detector tests?
Yankee manager Lou Piniella surveyed the reporters who confronted him before his team suffered defeat No. 3 in the three-game series last week with Toronto that changed the leadership of the American League East. "We'll be all right," Piniella said. "But right now, we're not the story. Why's everyone in my office?"
By now the Blue Jays are accustomed to being, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. In a 10-day span they went from two games behind the Yanks to three games in front of them by sweeping three from the Orioles in Toronto, those three from the Yankees in New York—by a combined score of 22-3—and by taking three of four from the Orioles in Baltimore. Before Sunday's 8-5 loss to the O's the Jays had extended their club-record winning streak to 11 games, and after it they had a 39-21 record, the best in baseball. Meanwhile George Bell had made himself the front-runner for MVP with a four-game binge of five homers and 14 RBTs, which extended his major league leads in each category. Tony Fernandez made a once-in-a-lifetime play, which teammate Rick Leach says Fernandez makes once a week. The bottomless bullpen won or finished eight straight victories and yet, shrugged Tom (the Terminator) Henke, "Nobody knows us."
As the Blue Jays became the first AL East team since the '83 Orioles to take over first place after mid-May—and did it in Yankee Stadium—they remained last in the league in road attendance and ignored in the All-Star voting. Bell, for instance, was running eighth among AL outfielders, four places below Bo Jackson. "I guess we're the best team that no one knows," said pitcher John Cerutti.
Even if the nation's fans confuse George with Eric Bell and Willie with Cecil Upshaw, the battered Yankees knew who was coming to town on Monday, June 8, and they prepared for a siege. With Rickey Henderson disabled because of a pulled hamstring and Don Mattingly out with an injured back (a batting practice injury, the Yankees maintained, not the result of horseplay), New York promptly traded pitcher Joe Niekro to Minnesota for the lefthand-hitting catcher Salas. "The Yankees are the only team that trades starting pitchers for third-string catchers for one series in June," said one pinstriped pitcher. The Yanks even had pitcher Bob Tewksbury, whom they had brought up from Columbus, hanging around just in case he was needed to start Tuesday night's game.
So, after the Blue Jays' opening-night 11-0 blowout, there was Tewksbury in front of his locker saying, "I don't know whether I'm pitching tomorrow night against Toronto or Wednesday against the Toledo Mud Hens." Before the Jays left town Steinbrenner made another trade (to reacquire Easier), was trying to make two more and was publicly threatening to send last year's 18-game winner, Dennis Rasmussen, to the minors.
Nothing the Yankees did mattered. It was the baseball equivalent of the Lakers against the Romanian basketball all-stars. "We can do a lot of things well," said Blue Jay manager Jimy Williams, "and New Yorkers saw almost every one of them."
Always it began with power and ended with pitching. Yankee ace Rick Rhoden had sailed into the fifth inning of the opener, down only 1-0, when rookie Fred McGriff blasted a fastball into a crowded runway halfway up the third deck in rightfield for a two-run homer. The McCoveyesque lefthanded slugger was one of three Jay starters developed in the Yankee farm system—or one more than the Yankees had in their own lineup that night. "Our reports say to use righthanders against them," said Piniella afterward. "But as that thing went into orbit, I decided to heck with that, I was pitching Ron Guidry in the second game [instead of Tewksbury]." Before Piniella could think again, Bell hit one even farther from the right side of the plate, a three-run shot that went over the corner of the upper deck in leftfield.
Dave Stieb, trying to shake off arm problems, pitched seven shutout innings, beating the Yankees for the first time since 1983 and winning his third consecutive start for the first time since July 1984. He walked two men with an 11-0 lead in the eighth and was gone in favor of Mark Eichhorn. "Why tempt fate," says Williams, "when I've got the best bullpen in baseball?"