SI Vault
Peter Gammons
October 02, 1989
In a battle that's strictly for the birds, the overachieving Orioles seek to wing past the underachieving Blue Jays
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October 02, 1989

A Flight To The Finish

In a battle that's strictly for the birds, the overachieving Orioles seek to wing past the underachieving Blue Jays

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"The Orioles are a lot better than anyone gives them credit for," says Oakland A's coach Merv Rettenmund. "They're so good defensively, especially in the outfield, that they take away the big innings. You have to hit it out on them to beat them."

Says Kansas City coach Bob Schaefer, "They're as dominating a defensive team as I've ever seen. They really play the game right."

"No team has more players who know how to play the game to win," says one American League catcher. "[Craig] Worthington, [Steve] Finley, Olson and Milacki may be rookies, but they play like they've been around for 25 years. Worthington's already one of the most respected players in the league with the game on the line."

Toronto, on the other hand, has carried the "talented" label for years, but there's a difference between having the tools and having the ability to use them. "It has nothing to do with a manager," says one Blue Jay. "This organization doesn't discipline or teach in the minors. You can't teach on the major league level, and stats don't show the countless times outfielders overthrow cutoff men or double plays are messed up."

Such flaws in the fundamentals go a long way toward explaining the fact that entering the season's final week Toronto was 20-2 against the league's two worst teams, the Detroit Tigers and the Chicago White Sox, and only 65-69 against everyone else.

After Saturday's loss to the Brewers, Gaston, when questioned about the Fernandez gaffe, told reporters, "I take full responsibility." Gruber blamed himself, but Fernandez responded to questions by shaking his head and whistling O Canada. Toronto utilityman Tom Lawless tried to make the best of the situation on Sunday morning when the lineup was posted in the clubhouse. Lawless read each name aloud: "Lloyd, you're leading off, which means Junior is in front of you, Mookie behind you, got it?" Lawless made Fernandez stand in front of the card and study it. It worked, to a degree. Fernandez was the leadoff hitter in the fifth inning. This time he remembered to bat, and he doubled, starting a two-run rally to tie the game 2-2.

But in the sixth, after Filer had walked two straight batters, Fernandez swung at the first pitch, which was out of the strike zone, and popped out to shallow left. "No one should ever throw strikes to us in crucial situations, because we'll swing at anything," said one Blue Jay afterward.

In the Brewers' half of the inning, Moseby broke the wrong way on Robin Yount's routine fly ball, and it dropped in for a single. Then with two on and two out, Fernandez failed to charge a Greg Vaughn two-hopper, ignored the force at second and tried a sidearm flip across the diamond. Vaughn beat the throw and the bases were loaded. Cerutti couldn't get the required fifth out of the inning and gave up a three-run double to Joey Meyer. The Brewers went on to win 8-3.

Nevertheless, Toronto entered the final week in first place and as the favorite to win the division title for one reason: its pitching staff, especially its talented bullpen. The relievers, including Tom Henke, Dave Wells, Duane Ward and Jim Acker, have more strikeouts than the starters in almost 500 fewer innings. In addition, the Jays' ERA is .39 of a point better than Baltimore's. However, if the championship hangs in the balance this weekend, the Blue Jays will have to outpitch not only the demons of seasons past but also a team from Baltimore that won't beat itself and has nothing to lose.

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