Blue Jays stay tuned, thanks to tense but tasty TV dinner


At 10:01 p.m. Toronto's 2-1 victory over the Orioles wa complete. The Blue Jays retreated to their clubhouse, turned on the TV and held their breath. It was nearly 90 minutes before they were free to exhale, nearly 90 minutes of excruciating, exquisite baseball drama.

The entire season flashed before their eyes, but the Blue Jaylived to see another day. Boston's 3-2 loss to Chicago in 11 innings left them one game back with one to play. There will be a one-game playoff tomorrow in Toronto if they somehow tie the Red Sox tonight.

The odds aren't good, for the Blue Jays must again beat thOrioles and the Red Sox must again lose to Chicago. In Baltimore, Orioles rookie Ben McDonald will face Dave Stieb. In Boston, White Sox rookie Alex Fernandez will face Mike Boddicker.

It's difficult to imagine how the tension could be any greater thalast night. The Blue Jays turned the sound down and watched the Red Sox on the New England Sports Network, courtesy of the Orioles' satellite dish. The sole TV was at one end of their clubhouse, above the coaches' lockers.

George Bell assumed the role of clown prince, reeling off a serieof one-liners. Kelly Gruber, John Candelaria and Kenny Williams provided color commentary from a sofa. Players drifted in and out of the shower. A half-dozen sat directly in front of the TV. Many left.

By the 11th, the media far outnumbered the players. At one poinBell asked a photographer to stop blocking his view. "Fred, Fred, that your name?" he asked. The photographer said yes. "You're acting like your name's Julio," Bell joked.

Reliever Dennis Lamp started the final inning for Boston, and thBlue Jays welcomed his arrival, figuring he might lose the game. They grew even more excited when Red Sox leftfielder Mike Greenwell fell down trying to catch Ron Karkovice's one-out single.

"He played that ball like me," Bell cried.

"That's why we're here watching this," Candelaria shot back, tmuch laughter.

The next hitter was Robin Ventura. "Watch out for a hit-and-ruwith Karkovice," warned Williams, who played for Chicago from 1986-88. But the White Sox played it straight, and Ventura hit a single to center. "Get up there!" Williams shouted as the ball cleared the infield.

It was then that Orioles shortstop Juan Bell entered thclubhouse to join his brother George. Meanwhile in Boston, Scott Fletcher approached the plate. "Come on, Scotty, right over the second baseman's head," Gruber said. Fletcher popped up to second instead.

Now it was Ozzie Guillen's turn. Two innings before he hastruck out, prompting Gruber to crack, "That midget should never strike out." But this time he pulled a slider down-and-away for a single, scoring Karkovice from second with the go-ahead run.

Toronto second baseman Manny Lee leaped from his seat anpumped his right fist madly, showing no ill effects of the sore shoulder that kept him out of last night's lineup. The Red Sox went down quietly in their half, and with two outs Williams yelled, "Turn out the lights!"

The emotions had gone back and forth the entire night. In theiown game, the Blue Jays scored first on a fifth-inning RBI single by Pat Borders. But the Orioles tied it in the eighth on a sacrifice fly by Brady Anderson, the former Red Sox who was a last-minute substitute for the injured Dave Gallagher.

Has scoreboard watching ever been more intense? With thOrioles still batting, the White Sox took a 2-1 lead over Boston. The Blue Jays saw their opening, then seized it when Fred McGriff hit his 35th homer, a towering shot off Dave Johnson on a 2-2 changeup with two outs in the ninth.

The home run enabled Bud Black to earn his first victory witToronto and Tom Henke to earn his 32nd save. But the Red Sox rallied to tie Chicago shortly after the game at Memorial Stadium ended. By the time the media was permitted inside the visiting clubhouse, the vigil had begun.

Mookie Wilson walked out as reporters and TV crews walked inMost Blue Jays ignored the post-game meal of chicken, pepper steak, rice and Caesar's salad. Gruber took his place on the sofa, still in his undergarments. Reporters surrounded McGriff and Black.

Shortstop Tony Fernandez walked through the clubhouse with big smile and yelled, "Let's go, when's the bus leaving?" Bell draped a towel over a photographer's head one moment, asked a woman reporter if she was enjoying the telecast the next.

The Blue Jays stirred when former Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisbatted for Chicago in the 10th. The TV showed a replay of Fisk's famous homer in the 1975 World Series, and Gruber shook his head and said, "Look at Pudge." Fisk hit a long fly foul, but then struck out.

Then came the bottom half, the one they're muttering about iBoston today. The Red Sox put runners on second and third with two out against reliever Donn Pall. Their next two hitters were Wade Boggs and Ellis Burks. One clutch single would end it.

Back at Memorial Stadium, the photographers gathered arounthe Blue Jays, anxious to capture their emotions at the precise instant they were eliminated. Unperturbed, the Toronto players debated the merits of pitching to Boggs or Burks.

Chicago chose Burks, walking Boggs intentionally to set up force at any base. The strategy worked. Burks flied out to rightfielder Sammy Sosa, with Williams pleading from afar, "please catch it, Sammy." Blue Jays PR director Howard Starkman clapped his hands. Gruber headed for the shower.

Moments later it was over. Gruber dressed and told reporters"It's not ours to lose. It's theirs." Lee bounced out of the clubhouse, shouting in Spanish as he went. "Otro manana," he cried. Another tomorrow.

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