TORONTO -- It isn't exactly the "Curse of the Bambino," but the Toronto Blue Jays will be carrying a lot of baggage when they arrive at SkyDome this afternoon for Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
They came into the 1992 season weighted down by expectations, and they will enter the final two games of the playoffs still haunted by the ghosts of postseasons past. That's why Game 6 has got to feel a lot like Game 7 to
The brief history of the franchise is littered with near-misses. The Blue Jays were the first team to take a 3-1 advantage in a best-of-seven playoff series, and they were the first team to blow one. They returned to the playoffs in 1989 -- just long enough to get bashed by the Oakland Athletics. They were a solid favorite last year, but lost to the seemingly overmatched Minnesota Twins in five, including three straight at home.
This is a sore subject around the Blue Jays' clubhouse. Right fielder Joe Carter, normally one of baseball's Mr. Nice Guys, blew up at reporters early in the series when someone brought the club's haunted history into the conversation.
Manager Cito Gaston has been touchy about the subject ever since last season, when the team appeared to have the manpower to take the next step on the postseason ladder. Who could blame him? The Blue Jays won the division title and the season was perceived as something of a failure. There was even talk that his job might be in danger.
Which brings us back to today's Game 6 matchup between Blue Jays right-hander Juan Guzman and veteran A's pitcher Mike Moore. It is a must-win situation for Oakland, and it is a let's-get-this-over-with situation for Toronto.
Gaston denies that there is any extra pressure to get it done, but he has to do that. He also denies any link between this club and the ones that fell short in the past.
"Different people, different players," was all that he would say about it after Monday's 6-2 loss in Game 5.
The next day or two will determine how different his team really is. The Blue Jays spent millions to add free agents Jack Morris and Dave Winfield this year, which was as good as an admission that the 1991 club did not have enough of the intangible qualities that add up to a World Series championship.
Morris will be in the wings when the Blue Jays try to get it done today, but that would be more comforting if he had not blown up in Game 4.
The A's exuded confidence after they bounced back from a frustrating Game 4 defeat to score a convincing victory Monday, but even they seem a little defensive when the subject turns to the Blue Jays' supposed inability to win the big games.
"They're not made up like that this year," said A's pitcher Dave Stewart, who has handled them well twice in the series. "That is an outstanding club. The makeup is totally different from those past clubs. Cito Gaston is an outstanding manager, and I think it's about time people started to recognize that. They're going home thinking they are going to win it."
No doubt, Toronto baseball fans would have breathed a collective sigh of relief if David Cone had been able to bring the series to a quick end, but no one believed that the Blue Jays would sweep the three-game set at the Oakland Coliseum.
"We wanted to clinch it [in Oakland]," Carter said Monday, "but we got beat by a good pitcher. We won't get down on ourselves. We're just going to go home, take a day off and come back and play good baseball."
That should be good enough. Guzman has been the club's most overpowering pitcher this year. He went 16-5 with a 2.64 ERA during the regular season and pitched a solid six innings to defeat the A's in Game 3.
Moore was far more hitable during the regular season, but he also is coming off a decent playoff start and he has a 5-2 lifetime record at SkyDome.
If Guzman does not pitch well today, the focus will shift to Gaston's decision to go with a three-man postseason rotation. Morris, pitching on three days' rest for only the second time this season, gave up five runs in the third inning of Game 4. Cone gave up six runs over four innings Monday.
Guzman, also pitching on three days' rest, could be the most sensitive of all to overwork. He spent most of August on the disabled list with a sore shoulder, and only recently returned to his regular pitching routine. Gaston removed him after six innings in Game 3.
The last time Guzman worked in a similar situation was Sept. 15, when he pitched on three days' rest after throwing five innings in his previous start. He pitched decently, giving up three runs on seven hits over seven innings against the Cleveland Indians.
Gaston had other starting pitchers available at the beginning of the series, but he used up left-hander Jimmy Key in long relief in Game 5 and pitched Todd Stottlemyre 3 2/3 innings the day before. Now, the weight of the series rests on Guzman's fragile shoulder and the Blue Jays organization's fragile psyche.
If the Blue Jays are at a psychological disadvantage, the A's would seem to balance it with a manpower shortage. They do not match up well against Toronto, especially now that leadoff man Rickey Henderson is questionable with a hamstring strain. But they have overcome problems more serious to get this far.
"That's something that we've done all year," first baseman Mark McGwire said. "We came back after [Sunday's] loss. That's the way this club has been all year. I don't think that anything surprises us."
Toronto Blue Jays vs. Oakland Athletics (Blue Jays lead, 3-2) Game 1: A's 4, Blue Jays 3
Game 2: Blue Jays 3, A's 1
Game 3: Blue Jays 7, A's 5
Game 4: Blue Jays 7, A's 6, 11 inn.
Game 5: A's 6, Blue Jays 2
Today: at Toronto, 3:07
Tomorrow: at Toronto, 8:37*
(*-if necessary) TV: Channels 11, 9
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)