It's not really what a divisional race should be, this battle between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox for the American League East. Winning is not the operative word. These are two teams trying not to lose. Triumph? The signs speak only of tragedy. The Red Sox are greeted by a fan holding a placard that reads, simply, 1918, a reminder of 71 years of championship-free baseball in Boston. The Blue Jays are referred to almost daily by the locals as the Blow Jays.
A couple of defeats down the stretch wouldn't provoke panic in most cities, but Toronto fans can't forget the Jays' famous fades, including 1987, when they lost their final seven games, and the East title. The anxiety of a Toronto fan, however, can't match that of a tortured Red Sox follower. Dan Shaughnessy of
The Boston Globe
wrote a book last fall on the gruesome history of the Red Sox and the sale of Babe Ruth to the hated New York Yankees in 1919. It's called The Curse of the Bambino, and it's in its fourth printing.
The saga continues. The Red Sox led the Blue Jays by 6� games on Sept. 4, but on that night Boston's most important player, Roger Clemens, injured his right shoulder, and he hasn't pitched since. When the Red Sox staggered into Baltimore last week for a three-game series, their lead had melted to a single game. Says Shaughnessy, "The Red Sox are doing for my book what the Ayatollah did for The Satanic Verses."
MONDAY, SEPT. 17
The national media swoop into Baltimore's Memorial Stadium like vultures. They are not here for that Randy Kutcher profile. These are the collapse columnists. "It's almost like they want it to happen," says Boston's Mike Boddicker.
Reliever Larry Andersen, acquired from the Houston Astros on Aug. 31, is asked why a Red Sox slump causes such panic. "It's typical for New England," he says. "They accentuate the negative. It wasn't this bad in Houston when we were 20 games behind."
Joe Morgan is remarkably cool for a manager who's lugging a four-game losing streak into a huge series. Any predictions? "Walpole High will go 9-1 this season," he says of his hometown football team. "Maybe 10-0."
His players are remarkably loose. Why not? Baltimore is the safest city in the American League: The Orioles have 13 consecutive series losses to American League East teams. And on this day the O's are gracious hosts again. Baltimore commits a season-high four errors, throws a season-high three wild pitches and strikes out 13 times. Boston wins 7-3 in 3:38 of pure ugly. Toronto beats the Yankees 6-4. The Boston lead is still one game.
In the jubilant Red Sox clubhouse, Andersen rips off a series of "victory belches," which are so loud he sounds as if he has swallowed a chain saw. "I learned how to do it at an early age, and I've worked hard to perfect it," Andersen says. "I don't want to blow my own horn, but no one is close to me in belching talent. But it does cause some problems for guys doing any live radio or TV."
TUESDAY, SEPT. 18