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Jays in cinch, Braves in pinch Toronto chases ghosts, A's with a vengeance, 9-2

THE BALTIMORE SUN

TORONTO -- SkyDome is not haunted after all. The Toronto Blue Jays chased away the ghosts of postseasons past yesterday and turned the 1992 World Series into an international event for the first time in major-league history.

The World Series will touch down on foreign soil for the first time next week because Joe Carter and Candy Maldonado put the hammer down on the Oakland Athletics and carried the Blue Jays to a surprisingly easy 9-2 victory in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.

The waiting finally is over for long-suffering Canadian baseball fans, who came up short in the playoffs four times (once in Montreal, three times in Toronto) before right-hander Juan Guzman got it done with a seven-inning, five-hit performance that earned him his third career playoff victory.

The A's went home to rebuild. The end of a five-year American League dynasty appears to be at hand, with more than half of their team facing free agency, but the A's would get no sympathy from the sellout crowd of 51,335. The Blue Jays have won their first pennant.

No choke.

They did it with a truly international assembly of baseball's most productive players. Puerto Rican Roberto Alomar had three hits yesterday and 11 hits in the six-game series to win MVP honors. Maldonado, also from Puerto Rico, hit two big home runs, including the game-breaker yesterday. Jamaican-born Devon White batted .348 in the series. Guzman, a Dominican, won two games, including the biggest in the history of the franchise.

But the home country was not represented on the field. There was a Canadian-born player on the Blue Jays' regular-season roster, but outfielder Rob Ducey was traded to the California Angels in July. No matter. Carter and Dave Winfield and Jack Morris will be honorary Canadian citizens after this.

Manager Cito Gaston finally has silenced his critics -- the ones who said he couldn't win the big one in the wake of two division championships (1989 and '91) followed by two lopsided losses in the playoffs. He's about to make a little history of his own, becoming the first black manager to take part in a World Series.

"There were so many times where I was criticized that I eventually stopped reading the papers," Gaston said. "But maybe I'll start now. I enjoyed it overall despite the things that were said. I had a good time."

The final game came down to two big swings in the early innings. Carter launched a two-run homer in the bottom of the first and Maldonado erased all doubt with a 426-foot blast to center that staked Guzman to a 6-0 lead. Both homers came against Oakland right-hander Mike Moore, who gave up six runs on seven hits in 2 2/3 innings.

Guzman didn't need that much help. He carried a no-hit bid into the fifth before Terry Steinbach broke it up with a single. He carried a shutout into the seventh, before Mark McGwire broke it up with an RBI single. Guzman, who was working on three days' rest, finally turned the game over to Duane Ward and eventually Tom Henke.

"I'm just happy that we can throw out all that stuff about 1985 and '90 [Jays went down to final game, finishing second to Boston] and '91," said Carter, who had just four singles in his first 21 at-bats of the series. "It's all out the window. I'm just glad we could make every one who threw that at us this year eat their words."

The Blue Jays had spared no expense to take the next step on the postseason ladder. They went out and signed Morris and Winfield after falling short against the Minnesota Twins last year. Morris won 21 games during the regular season and the 41-year-old Winfield had 26 home runs and 108 RBI.

"We did what we set out to do," said Winfield, who hit two home runs in his first postseason series since 1981. "We didn't listen to what anybody said. We just went out and did what we had to and everyone contributed. We expected to do this and I'm really savoring it."

The A's blinked first. Left fielder Rickey Henderson dropped a routine fly ball by White to lead off the first inning and put Moore at immediate disadvantage. Moore struck out Roberto Alomar, but Carter drove a 2-2 fastball over the left-center field fence to stake Guzman to a quick two-run lead.

"In a game like that, the very first inning is very important," Carter said. "We were telling each other to try and go out and win this thing early. Any time in a game like this, you want to jump out to a lead quickly and when you do that you put a lot of pressure on the opposition. Once we did that, with the way Juan was pitching, the big blow was Candy's three-run homer."

Maldonado had homered in support of Guzman in Game 3, hitting a bases-empty shot that put him ahead to stay. This one gave Guzman an insurmountable advantage and chased the last of the skeptics out of SkyDome.

The Blue Jays had come into Game 6 still haunted by the possibility of a come-from-ahead defeat like the one that cost the organization a World Series trip in 1985. Carter's home run eased the tension, but a two-run lead was hardly comfortable. Maldonado took care of that, and he was rewarded with a deafening standing ovation from the normally restrained Blue Jays' faithful.

"It was a great moment," he said. "Knowing at that time that you've put the team that far ahead with a pitcher like Juan out there."

The four-run rally began with an attempt to turn a leadoff single by Alomar into an insurance run, but A's manager Tony La Russa helped turn it into much more after Alomar stole second and Carter struck out. La Russa chose to walk Winfield intentionally to get to first baseman John Olerud, who doubled in a run before Maldonado came to the plate.

La Russa went against the book by walking a right-handed hitter to get to a left-handed hitter with a right-hander on the mound, but he knew that Guzman was on his game. He knew that three runs might be as good as six, and he would turn out to be right.

"We didn't do much against him," La Russa said. "We had our chances, but we just didn't make contact off him. It was typical of the whole series. We took our shots, but they did what they had to do to be champions. The better team won. They did more things right than we did."

The series wasn't lost yesterday as much as it was in Game 4, when the A's blew a five-run lead in the eighth and ninth innings and suffered a heart-breaking loss that pushed them to the brink of elimination. They came back with a strong offensive performance against David Cone in Game 5, but needed to sweep the final two games at SkyDome to reach the World Series for the fourth time in the past five years.

"I'd just like to say that I've never had a team play harder than this club," La Russa said. "We had a regular season that I'll never forget. In the end, the Blue Jays did what they had to do to win. From top to bottom, they're a first-class organization."

Different species of Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays' statistics from this year's playoffs contrast with those from their losing efforts in their previous three AL playoff appearances:

F: .... ....... .... ..... ...... ....... ....... ...Opp.

Year... W-L ... Avg. ... R ... HR ... RBI ... ERA ... HR

1985... 3-4 ... .269 ... 25 ... 2 .... 23 ... 3.77 ... 7

1989... 1-4 ... .242 ... 21 ... 3 .... 19 ... 5.02 ... 7

1991... 1-4 ... .249 ... 19 ... 1 .... 18 ... 4.60 ... 3

1992... 4-2 ... .281 ... 31 .. 10 .... 30 ... 3.44 ... 4

World Series

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Atlanta Braves

(Best of seven)

Saturday: at Atlanta, 8:29

Sunday: at Atlanta, 8:29

Tuesday: at Toronto, 8:29

Wednesday: at Toronto, 8:26

Oct. 22: at Toronto, 8:26*

Oct. 24: at Atlanta, 8:26*

Oct. 25: at Atlanta, 8:29*

(*-if necessary)

TV: Channels 11, 9

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

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