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Stewart checks Morris in money-game match

THE BALTIMORE SUN

TORONTO -- Dave Stewart wanted it bad. He wanted to defeat Jack Morris and the Toronto Blue Jays. He wanted to show the world that the best money pitcher of the past decade was not the pitcher who has gone from city to city to collect the best money. It had become almost personal.

He wanted to prove it the way he proved it against Roger Clemens in 1990. He wanted to prove it all night, but he didn't get the chance.

The Oakland Athletics opened the American League Championship Series with a 4-3 triumph over the Blue Jays last night at SkyDome, but Stewart had to settle for the collective gratification of a team victory.

He pitched a strong 7 2/3 innings and left with the lead, but it took a mammoth ninth-inning home run by designated hitter Harold Baines to put the A's over the top to stay. Stewart ended up with no decision, but his team is now 7-0 in his seven playoff starts and the Blue Jays are under the gun again.

Respect. That's what it was all about.

"It bothered me that Jack Morris was being presented as the big-game guy now," Stewart explained. "I took it personally. It also bothered me that the Blue Jays were considered big favorites. And it bothered me that Jimmy Key and some of their pitchers think they have such a big pitching advantage over us."

It bothered him in 1987 and '88 and '89 and '90, when he won 20 games each year and didn't win even one Cy Young Award. Stewart isn't the bitter type, but it bothered him just enough to fire him up for the playoffs. He defeated Clemens in the deciding game in 1990. He beat Toronto ace Dave Stieb twice in '89. The man just knows how to motivate himself.

This time, he left a little too early, but not of his own accord. Manager Tony La Russa removed him from the game in the eighth inning with Dave Winfield at second and two outs. Jeff Russell came on to give up a game-tying base hit to John Olerud that brought the Blue Jays and their sellout crowd back into the game.

Stewart wanted to stay out there. He got back-to-back home runs from Mark McGwire and Terry Steinbach in a three-run second inning and he wanted to do the rest himself.

"I thought I was thinking along with him," Stewart said. "I thought he was going to come out and tell me to walk Olerud and pitch to Candy Maldonado."

La Russa wasn't going to tell him that, not with Olerud representing the go-ahead run and the dynamic bullpen duo of )) Duane Ward and Tom Henke waiting in the wings for Toronto.

"Then I realized that is why we made the trade," Stewart said. "That's what we have Jeff for."

That also is what they have Dennis Eckersley for, but La Russa is more inclined to bring in his stopper to start an inning fresh. Thanks to Baines' first career postseason home run, Eckersley did come in to start the ninth and added to his own major-league record with his 10th playoff save.

Now, the pressure pitcher of the past decade thinks that all the pressure is on the Blue Jays, who will disappoint their public with anything but a World Series appearance this year. They spent a fortune to add Morris and Winfield to a team that reached the playoffs two of the past three years. Both made major contributions last night and the Blue Jays still are facing a must-win situation in Game 2.

"They were under a lot of pressure already," Stewart said. "This can't help but put more on them."

Take it from someone who knows. Stewart was on a World Series team in 1988 that was supposed to put the hammer down on the Los Angeles Dodgers, but they never recovered from a deflating loss in the opener.

"When Kirk Gibson hit that home run in that game in LA, that took a lot out of us," Stewart said. "We had it. We were right there. Eck was coming in and then, bang, we're behind. That took a whole lot out of us."

No one is saying that last night's game was that deflating, but it was an emotional roller coaster for the Blue Jays, who fought their way back in the eighth and then let it get away on the second pitch of the ninth. The whole stadium exhaled at the same moment. Then thousands of fans began heading for the exits. Eckersley was on the way. They knew what that meant.

It is only one game, but the psychological implications could be staggering.

"You can't be down after one game," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "You should pack up and go home if you feel that way. I think you can put this on the plus side because we battled back. We're going to come back out and hopefully win a game tomorrow."

Still, the range of emotions had to be draining. The Blue Jays chipped away throughout the evening, getting home runs from Pat Borders and Winfield before Olerud tied the game. Then Morris grooved a 1-0 pitch to Baines and they were right back where they started.

"This will be a special one [home run] for a long time," said Baines, a native of Maryland's Eastern Shore. "I was excited that I got us back ahead. Once we're ahead at that point, we know that Eck is going to come in and close the door."

Morris went all the way and gave up just six hits, but that was enough to put a dent in his reputation as baseball's Mr. Clutch. The three-homer performance would drop his postseason record to 7-2 and leave his team very much on the defensive.

Gaston had Ward warming up in the bullpen, but he defended his decision to leave Morris in the game for the ninth inning.

"Jack has pitched well enough for us this year to warrant sending him out there in the ninth," Gaston said. "He deserved a chance to go out and win the game."

Morris had created an instant sense of anticipation in the normally staid SkyDome crowd when he retired the A's on three straight ground outs in the first inning, but it disappeared with McGwire's tremendous two-run shot in the second. Steinbach made the hole a little deeper with his line drive over the left-field fence.

McGwire has hurt the Blue Jays before, and in similar fashion. His home run in the first game of the 1989 playoffs started a three-run sixth-inning rally that carried the A's to a 7-3 victory. They went on to win the series in five games and McGwire went on to bat .389. Last night's homer was his fourth in postseason play.

Steinbach also has been known to step up in big-game situations. He hit a game-winning home run to win MVP honors in the 1988 All-Star Game and he had a home run and seven RBI in the 1989 World Series sweep of the San Francisco Giants.

There also were a number of balls hit hard off Stewart in the early innings, but the first one to sting was a fifth-inning shot by catcher Pat Borders that cleared the fence in left field and broke up the shutout.

Winfield was next, driving a ball right over a sign that hung from the left-field bleachers proclaiming "Winfield for P.M." He probably could make a run for prime minister if he were a Canadian citizen, but the Jays were more than willing to settle for the first postseason home run of his career and the double that put them in position to tie the game in the eighth.

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