OAKLAND, CALIF. — OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Toronto Blue Jays have their critics, but they had all the answers in yesterday's 7-5 victory over the Oakland Athletics in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.
They answered every challenge. They took advantage of virtually every opportunity. They took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven playoff because they were too good and too resourceful and too tough to let it get away.
When was the last time anyone used those words to describe the Blue Jays in the postseason?
"We don't worry about what people said about the past," said outfielder Joe Carter. "This is a totally different ballclub. That doesn't pertain to us. We can answer the challenge. We have the answers."
The A's, on the other hand, were in the unusual position of explaining what went awry. They did everything wrong that they usually do right. They dropped the ball. They ran themselves out of a big rally.
They gave up big runs in the late innings. They made a season's worth of mistakes for such a seasoned team. How do you figure?
"Normally, that club doesn't make many mistakes," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said, "but some days are just like that. You can believe that they will show up to play [today]."
The A's have put themselves in a very vulnerable position, to be sure. They face postseason veteran Jack Morris in a game that could put them on the eve of elimination if they do not bounce back in a hurry.
They had their chances against right-hander Juan Guzman, but he survived six innings to earn his second career postseason victory. Oakland starter Ron Darling also turned in a quality start, giving up three runs on four hits over six innings, but took the loss because a pair of late-inning comeback attempts came up a short.
Blue Jays shortstop Manny Lee delivered the biggest offensive blow of the game when he bounced a two-run triple past A's first baseman Mark McGwire with two outs in the seventh inning to give the departed Guzman a three-run lead. But Toronto got big performances from every corner of its playoff roster.
* Dave Winfield scored the decisive run on a wild pitch by reliever Jeff Russell in the eighth, then knocked a ball off Dennis Eckersley for an RBI infield single in the ninth to provide the final margin of victory.
* Candy Maldonado drove in a couple of early runs with a single and a home run.
* Roberto Alomar hit his first postseason home run in the fourth.
* Third baseman Kelly Gruber made a spectacular diving stop to rob Carney Lansford of an RBI double in the seventh.
* Carter made an outstanding throw from the outfield to complete a double play that took the life out of an Oakland rally in the fourth.
* Stopper Tom Henke pitched the last 1 2/3 innings to record his second save of the series.
If there was one moment when the game -- and perhaps the entire series -- hung in the balance, it came in the fourth inning, when the A's appeared to be perfectly positioned to knock out Guzman.
The first four Oakland batters reached base and the A's erased a two-run deficit before there was an out. Guzman gave up leadoff double to Ruben Sierra and a run-scoring single to Harold Baines, then hit McGwire with a pitch to put the tying run in scoring position.
When Terry Steinbach tied the game with a single and Willie Wilson walked to load the bases, still with no one out, it looked like the A's were going to heap a few more tons of playoff pressure on the already hard-pressed Blue Jays.
It didn't happen. Mike Bordick hit a fly ball to medium-deep right field and third base coach Rene Lachemann set himself up for the second-guess of his life when he had McGwire challenge Carter's well-respected throwing arm.
McGwire, who would take it as a big compliment if you credited him with average speed, tagged up and headed home with the potential go-ahead run. Carter cranked up and made a strong throw. The play was not close.
"I was shocked that he went," said Carter. "I always play the ball as if the guy is going, so I caught it and let it go. I knew I had made a strong throw."
The throw was high, but McGwire wasn't even in the home plate circle yet. He tried to dislodge the ball, but Borders held on and so did Guzman.
That play would be a major turning point, but A's manager Tony La Russa did not second-guess his third-base coach afterward.
"Our style is that, when in doubt, be aggressive," La Russa said"Lach has won a lot of games for us over there, not just this year but the past several years. I don't look at it as one play that won or lost the game."
The Blue Jays had scored in the second on an RBI single bMaldonado. They had taken a two-run lead when Alomar sliced a bases-empty home run over the left-field fence in the fourth.
Maldonado put them back in the lead in the fifth with a bases-empty shot to left before Lee staked Guzman to a three-run edge with his clutch two-run triple in the seventh. It seemed like a commanding lead at the time, until set-up man Duane Ward almost let the game get away in the bottom of the inning.
Rickey Henderson manufactured a run. He walked to lead off the seventh, stole second and ended up at third on an error by Lee. He scored on a one-out sacrifice fly by Sierra. That cleared the bases with two out, but the A's loaded the bases on three
straight singles to draw within a run before Ward finally struck out Wilson to end the threat.
Steinbach drove home the second run of the inning with his second RBI single of the game. He had three hits and reached base in his first four trips to the plate. In the series' three games, he is 5-for-12 (.417) with a home run and three RBI.
Toronto Blue Jays vs. Oakland Athletics (Blue Jays lead, 2-1) Game 1: A's 4, Blue Jays 3
Game 2: Blue Jays 3, A's 1
Game 3: Blue Jays 7, A's 5
Today: at Oakland, 4:10
Tomorrow: at Oakland, 3:07
Wednesday: at Toronto, 3:07* or 8:26*
Thursday: at Toronto, 8:37*
(*-if necessary) TV: Channels 11, 9
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)