Twins top Jays, near title Morris pitches 5-0 victory


TORONTO -- The greatest year-to-year turnaround in major-league history was not quite complete, but the Minnesota Twins knew that they had accomplished something special.

They couldn't pull any corks just yet, but their 5-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday at SkyDome all but assured them their second American League West title in four years.

Veteran right-hander Jack Morris pitched a six-hit shutout on the way to his 18th victory of the year, evening the first of two preview series between the most likely combatants in this year's American League playoff.

The Twins clinched a tie for the AL West division championship. Their magic number dropped to one. It was only a matter of time -- perhaps just hours -- before they became the first team in modern baseball history to go from last place to first in the space of a single season. They were poised for a celebration at a local sports bar last night, but the second-place Chicago White Sox put it off for at least a day with a 5-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners at Comisty Park.

The Blue Jays lost, but their magic number dropped to five when the Boston Red Sox dropped an afternoon game to the Milwaukee Brewers.

The second-place Chicago White Sox were scheduled to play a night game -- another quirk of the same American League schedule that has thrown the Twins and Blue Jays together for six games over the final 10 days of the season. The Twins had to find a place to watch the game on cable and -- they hoped -- celebrate when a White Sox loss put them over the top.

That didn't happen, but their improbable comeback from a 74-88 season in 1990 very soon will be one for the record books.

"We've achieved something that a lot of people said we couldn't do," said outfielder Kirby Puckett. "There are some people in Las Vegas who are going to be giving out a lot of money to the people who picked us."

Morris, in his first year with the Twins, is completing an amazing comeback of his own. Left for dead by the Detroit Tigers after he lost 18 games in 1990, he has left room to wonder where they might have finished this year with him in their beleaguered starting rotation.

The Blue Jays were left to wonder what they will do if they have to face him in the playoffs. They certainly didn't do much yesterday, especially after Devon White delivered a leadoff single in the fifth inning. Morris did not give up another hit, retiring 14 of the last 16 batters he faced to record his 10th complete game of the season.

"I could smell it today," Morris said. "When you've got a cushion, that makes it a little easier for you because the pressure is on them to come back."

But Morris (18-12) might not have been the sharpest pitcher to take the mound at SkyDome yesterday. Toronto starter Tom Candiotti took a one-hitter into the fifth inning before he was knocked off kilter by a freak injury.

Candiotti walked the leadoff hitter in the fifth, but he was spiked on the right ankle covering first base after John Olerud bobbled a potential double-play ball.

Twins catcher Brian Harper, probably the only Minnesota player wearing cleats on the artificial turf, accidentally inflicted a wound that would require five stitches after Candiotti left the game. The problem was, Candiotti didn't leave the game until the Twins had scored two runs to break the scoreless tie.

The next two batters he faced delivered back-to-back hits, the second a double by Greg Gagne that drove home one run and led to another. Chili Davis scored on the hit and Shane Mack alertly raced home when Blue Jays left fielder Candy Maldonado tried to throw out Gagne at second base.

Candiotti left the game after handing a two-out walk to Gene Larkin, but reliever Jim Acker gave up a two-run single to Rookie of the Year candidate Chuck Knoblauch that opened up a four-run Minnesota lead.

"That was the turning point," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "If Olerud fields the ball cleanly, we have a shot at a double play. It looked like a bad turf seam hop."

There was little question that the injury had an effect on Candiotti's performance, but it is not expected to keep him from making his next scheduled start.

"The spike hurt," he said, "but after a few practice tosses, I thought I could do it. But it got worse quickly. Looking back at it, I should have left the game. The cut was more serious than I thought, but I should be fine."

Candiotti had given up a leadoff single to Larkin in the first inning and a couple of walks in the third. He had pitched to one batter over the minimum when he took the mound in the fifth, leaving no doubt why he has ranked either first or second in the league in ERA for much of the season.

"I was throwing really well," he said. "It was my first time throwing the knuckleball with the roof closed, and it was moving nicely."

Morris struck out four and walked three on the way to his second victory of the year over the Blue Jays. He was coming off a strong performance against the Texas Rangers and has given up one run over his past 16 innings.

"He really got it going after we got a couple of runs," Twins manager Tom Kelly said. "He had some trouble with a couple of runners on base, but he turned it on over the last five innings. He's a big horse."

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