OAKLAND, CALIF. — OAKLAND, Calif. -- It came down to this. Dave Stewart simply refused to let the Toronto Blue Jays smuggle the American League pennant out of the country.
They will have to win it in Canada, if they win it at all.
The Oakland Athletics had been pushed to the brink of elimination in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series, but Stewart pulled them back yesterday with a stubborn complete-game performance. He gave up seven hits on the way to a 6-2 victory that sent the series back to SkyDome for a tense Game 6 tomorrow.
Tense for whom? Tense for everyone. The Blue Jays still lead the series, 3-2, but they do not want to let the A's force a Game 7 showdown. There's just too much history -- and too much local hysteria -- working against them for that.
The A's remain under the gun. They could have started their winter vacation yesterday if Stewart had not come up with another vintage postseason performance to keep the cheap champagne on ice for at least another 48 hours.
It might have been his last game in Oakland green and gold, but he wasn't conceding anything after improving his playoff record to 6-0 with offensive help from teammates Ruben Sierra and Jerry Browne.
"I like our chances," Stewart said. "I think our chances are just as good today as they were when we got back here [tied at a game apiece]."
The odds certainly look better than they did after Sunday's disheartening loss in Game 4. The A's blew a five-run lead with stopper Dennis Eckersley on the mound. But Stewart gave the club a post-game pep talk and then took matters into his own hands yesterday.
"I think everybody who came into this clubhouse today could look at me and see we weren't going to lose unless we did something wrong," Stewart said.
Instead, they did everything right, jumping on Blue Jays starter David Cone for two runs in the first inning and knocking him out of the game in the fifth. By all accounts, the first cut was the deepest, a two-run home run by Sierra in the first inning that served notice that the A's were far from dead.
Browne, who had been a surprise starter at third base, set it up with a single to right. He would go on to hit safely in all four at-bats, scoring twice and driving in two runs.
Sierra got a high fastball and cranked it into the right-field bleachers. He also delivered a big hit in the fifth to drive in his seventh run of the series.
"Ruben came here in a real bad situation," Stewart said. "Jose [Canseco] was one of the most popular players in the game, and Ruben had to replace him, but he has done a tremendous job."
The A's took advantage of some ragged defense to take a 6-1 lead in the fifth, which would have been very comforting if the club had not blown a 6-1 lead in the late innings of Game 4. The Blue Jays threatened to get back into this one, too, but Stewart got out of a scary situation in the seventh when Roberto Alomar lined into a double play.
Manager Tony La Russa said he never was close to removing Stewart, and you had to believe him. The A's had used up Eckersley in Games 3 and 4. Set-up man Rick Honeycutt is hurting. Right-hander Jeff Russell has not pitched particularly well. The long guys were tired after Sunday's 11-inning marathon.
This one belonged to Stewart, who just might have made his last appearance in an Oakland A's uniform. He has been the heart and soul of the A's starting rotation throughout a five-year roll in which they have gone to the playoffs four times.
"The best example of that was today," La Russa said. "Today, there was justice in Stew's complete game. That's the way the script should be written."
Cone might not agree. He was acquired by the Blue Jays in August for just this kind of occasion, and he pitched so well in Game 2 that the likelihood of a blowup yesterday seemed remote. But he gave up six runs on six hits over four-plus innings to even his career record in the playoffs at 2-2.
"We went into the game with the frame of mind to be aggressive," Browne said. "Our main intention was to lay off his out pitch, which is his breaking ball."
If the Blue Jays had a game plan in mind for Stewart, it didn't show. He gave up a bases-empty home run to Dave Winfield in the fourth inning and an RBI single to Devon White in the seventh, but there was no point after the first inning where he was pitching with the game on the line.
He struggled with his control in the first, but a base-running mistake by White may have kept the Blue Jays from taking the initiative.
White singled to open the game, but was thrown out stealing with Joe Carter at the plate and one out. That wouldn't have been particularly significant if White had not looked toward home plate on the 2-1 pitch and slowed up as he went into second. He apparently had lost track of the count, and assumed that it was ball four when the pitch broke down and away from Carter.
It became more significant when Stewart completed the walk to Carter and walked Winfield to bring John Olerud to the plate. The bases would have been loaded with one out. Instead, Olerud struck out and the inning was over.
Stewart altered his pitching sequence for his second appearance of the series. "I knew in the first game, I didn't throw any breaking balls," he explained. "I threw the forkball and the fastball predominantly. I thought it would be a plus to show my breaking ball more this time to keep them off balance."
It apparently worked.
"It was the same old Dave," first baseman Mark McGwire said. "People were coming up to him yesterday and asking him what he was going to do. He said, 'I'm going to win.' They wanted him to elaborate on that, but he just kept saying, 'I'm going to win.' "
La Russa wouldn't rule out the possibility that Stewart could return for a seventh game, though right-hander Ron Darling is scheduled to start if the series gets that far.
"I'm a baseball fan," La Russa said. "Walter Alston pitched Sandy Koufax on two days' rest didn't he? I just hope we're still playing on Thursday. I'm not saying Dave would start. Ron Darling is going to start. But I would imagine that everyone would be available."