Cone helped Blue Jays, but helped himself more

TORONTO — TORONTO -- We will probably not know until sometime in late November who David Cone was really pitching for last night. About all we know for sure is that he was pitching for dollars.

Baseball as it oughta be? More like baseball as it has come to be: The Toronto Blue Jays, facing an 0-2 deficit and the dubious prospect of writing another chapter to their already unparalleled Book of Postseason Futility, rested all their hopes on the strong right arm-for-sale of Cone.


Suffice to say, Cone's price has risen -- as has the Blue Jays' stock in this American League Championship Series -- in the aftermath of the brilliant eight-plus innings of five-hit ball tossed by the Mets' most celebrated expatriate since Darryl Strawberry.

"I couldn't help but be aware of the situation," Cone said. "I mean, down 0-2 after the home-field advantage? We would have been in dire straits if we had lost this game. We really needed me to get us out of the blocks early. I feel very relieved to have been able to get through it."


It would be nice, of course, to think that Cone was wearing a T-shirt underneath his Blue Jays jersey emblazoned with a red-and-white Canadian maple leaf, or that he could truly relate to this team, this city and these fans who have done everything right in regard to baseball only to have everything go so wrong in October, but let's face it: This was all just for the moment.

"For me," said Cone, "this is the moment. I feel fortunate to be pitching for a team that has a chance to get to the World Series. I may never have that opportunity again. That's why this game was huge to me."

Next month, the moment will be a news conference at Yankee Stadium. Or maybe Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. Wherever, be somewhere other than Toronto and the standing ovation Cone was accorded from the 51,114 as he walked to the dugout in the ninth inning will be nothing more than a fond memory.

"I've been called a hired gun here and I still feel that way," Cone said. "Even though I did pitch some big games down the stretch. It's not the same as '88 with the Mets. On the other hand, I'm very focused and I feel like a part of this team. They've welcomed me, made me feel at home, and after I got a couple of wins in September they welcomed me even more."

It could be said that they have welcomed him as they would welcome a guest in their house. And if the guest has come bearing gifts as Cone has, well, make it an even warmer welcome. Of this you can be sure: if Cone pitches the Blue Jays into the World Series and then chooses to leave for the night life of Manhattan and a stake in Steinbrenner's vault, the fans of Toronto will bear no hard feelings. Clearly, they are just happy to have him for the moment.

And besides, the A's are no different than the Blue Jays when it comes to relying on "hired guns" to win this thing. If Cone is being looked upon as nothing more a six-week import for the Blue Jays, there are no less than 14 A's who fall into the same uncertain free-agent category, including Mark McGwire, Terry Steinbach, Harold Baines, Dave Stewart and Ruben Sierra.

A's general manager Sandy Alderson freely admits not all of them will be back and, in fact, most of them will not be.

"My players have been hearing all year that this is the last hurrah," said A's manager Tony La Russa. "But I've told them that isn't so. There's no way this organization isn't going to field a competitive team next year. As I told my players, the most selfish thing you can want to do in this game is to play on a winning team."


"Everyone in baseball feels a little tenuous now," said Cone. "All I have to do is look over at the other side at the A's to know that I'm in the same boat with a lot of other guys. You just have to try and put all that out of your mind."

Last night he clearly did. When he talked of living and pitching for the moment to get the Blue Jays to the World Series you believed him. At the same time, though, you had to believe that in the recesses of his mind there was the thought of Steinbrenner watching his performance on TV and calling his banker.