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Jays pinch-hit own miracle end Sprague's 2-rim HR in 9th wins it, 5-4


ATLANTA -- Now everyone knows the name of Toronto's backup catcher, too.

Ed Sprague became the lastest in baseball's week of unlikely heroes, hitting a two-run, pinch homer in the ninth inning last night as the Blue Jays stunned the Atlanta Braves, 5-4, to even the World Series at one game each.

On a night when everything looked wrong for the Blue Jays -- the Canadian flag was presented upside down and they were the victim of a bad call at home plate, Sprague made it all right. After a one-out walk to pinch hitter Derek Bell, Sprague, hitting for pitcher Duane Ward, jolted Jeff Reardon's first pitch over the left-field fence.

It was Toronto's first pinch homer since Sept. 20, 1991, when Pat Borders connected, and made Sprague, along with Kirk Gibson, the only World Series players ever to rally their team from a deficit to a victory with a ninth-inning pinch homer. It also was just the second homer this season for Sprague, who did not join the Blue Jays for good until late July.

Sprague's homer came a day after Braves reserve catcher Damon Berryhill hit a three-run homer off Jack Morris to rally Atlanta over Toronto, 3-1. Earlier this week, Braves backup backstop Francisco Cabrera won Game 7 of the NL playoffs with a two-out, two-run single in the ninth.

Ward was the winner and Tom Henke pitched the ninth for a save. Toronto relievers held Atlanta hitless for the final 4 2/3 innings.

Henke got Terry Pendleton to pop out for the final out with runners on first and second. Toronto's victory stopped a streak of eight straight wins by the home team in Series play.

The scene shifts to the SkyDome tomorrow night for Game 3, the first World Series game outside of the United States. Steve Avery will start for Atlanta against Juan Guzman.

Blue Jays veteran Jack Morris came into the postseason with the big name and the big-game reputation, but Smoltz has been nothing but effective since he made a name for himself in the playoffs last year.

He won two games in the 1991 National League Championship Series and came back to defeat the Pittsburgh Pirates two more times this year to win MVP honors and tie Steve Carlton's record of four NLCS victories. He did not earn a decision in last year's World Series, but he entered last night's game with a combined 1.98 postseason ERA.

He didn't wait long to show everyone why. Smoltz struck out five of the first six batters he faced and retired the first eight before opposing starter David Cone delivered the first hit of the game for the Blue Jays.

Smoltz had trouble keeping his emotions under control in the early innings of his previous start, but he had the Toronto lineup very much under control until the fifth. Cone has had trouble keeping base runners under control, and he quickly fell victim to an aggressive Braves game plan that mirrored the approach taken by the Oakland Athletics in the American League Championship Series.

Braves manager Bobby Cox inserted Deion Sanders into the No. 2 spot in the lineup just to terrorize Cone, who gave up six stolen bases in one of his playoff starts against the A's. The results were almost immediate. The Braves stole four bases in the first five innings, two of which led directly to runs. Sanders stole two himself, the second forcing an error by Borders and setting up the go-ahead run in the fifth.

There was more to the Braves' running game than the stolen base. They also used the hit-and-run to perfection in the fourth, taking advantage of a walk and a single to put runners at first and third with no one out. Berryhill could not get the run home, but Mark Lemke poked a ground ball to the right side that skipped past a diving Roberto Alomar and brought home the second Atlanta run.

The Blue Jays looked like they were going to get a gift run in the top of that inning, but a disputed call by home-plate umpire Mike Reilly kept the shutout alive for another inning. Alomar tried to score from third on a pitch that bounced away from Berryhill, but he was out when Berryhill pounced on the ball and flipped it to Smoltz at the plate.

Or was he?

Alomar slid headfirst and appeared to have his hand on the plate well before Smoltz dropped the tag on his upper arm. The video replay said as much, but the inning was over anyway.

The Blue Jays had to wait until the fifth to break through, and they had to get a second hit from Cone to do it. His two-out RBI single to center brought home the first run and kept the inning alive long enough for Devon White to tie the game with a run-scoring infield single.

Smoltz had been dominant up to that point. He even got the first two outs of that inning before Borders walked and Manuel Lee looped a broken-bat single to right. Cone jumped ahead 3-0 in the count, but Smoltz fought back to 3-2 before giving up the line drive to center field.

The second run of the inning would not have scored without an assist from Braves first baseman Sid Bream, who cut off Otis Nixon's throw to the plate and threw the ball right back into center field for an error that allowed Lee to move to third.

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