Pitching is Key as Jays close in Title a game away after 5-hit, 2-1 win

THE BALTIMORE SUN

TORONTO -- The World Series may not be the only thing to make its first appearance outside the United States this year. The world championship trophy could receive resident status in Canada as early as tonight.

The Toronto Blue Jays placed the Atlanta Braves on 24-hour notice last night with a 2-1 victory in Game 4, leaving it up to 1991 World Series hero Jack Morris to close it out tonight at SkyDome.

Morris has done it before. He pitched a 10-inning shutout against John Smoltz in Game 7 last year, and he'll face off against Smoltz again with a chance to crack open the cheap champagne.

"This is his kind of thing," said Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston. "He likes to rise to the top in this sort of situation."

He apparently is not alone. Game 4 belonged to left-hander Jimmy Key, who pitched 7 2/3 innings and gave up five hits to record his second career postseason victory. He carried a shutout into the eighth and turned the game over to reliever Duane Ward and then stopper Tom Henke, and now the relatively young Blue Jays franchise is one victory away from baseball's ultimate prize.

Braves manager Bobby Cox had seen all this before, but under better circumstances. He was on the receiving end of a lot of big performances by Key during the years he managed the Blue Jays.

"He helped me stay around here," Cox said. "He was a great pitcher and he looked every bit as good tonight as he did years ago. I know he didn't have the best of seasons, but he threw very well."

It was a pitched battle. The Blue Jays' offense came down to a third-inning home run by Pat Borders and a seventh-inning RBI single by Devon White, who followed his defensive performance in Game 3 with three hits last night.

The Braves made some noise in the early innings, but their only run crossed the plate on an RBI ground out in the eighth. The game could have turned minutes later on a two-out shot down the first-base line by Jeff Blauser, but first baseman John Olerud was crowding the line and cut the ball off to end the inning.

Henke did the rest, pitching a 1-2-3 ninth to record his second save of the World Series and his fifth of this postseason.

Atlanta left-hander Tom Glavine pitched a complete-game six-hitter, but his postseason luck continues to run cold. He came back on three days' rest after a strong Game 1 effort in which he went the distance and gave up a run on just four hits.

It was a calculated risk, considering Glavine's shaky Game 6 performance during the National League playoffs, and there were a couple of points early in the game when he seemed on the brink of disaster, but he pitched well enough to win.

Borders was the first to break through, lining a ball off the foul screen in left for a leadoff home run in the third. Glavine went on to give up a double to White and a walk to Roberto Alomar before Joe Carter lined into a double play.

Glavine's luck would hold in the fourth. He opened the inning with a walk to Dave Winfield and gave up a sharp single to Olerud, but Candy Maldonado flied out and Kelly Gruber bounced into an inning-ending double play.

The Blue Jays put runners at first and third in the sixth, but Glavine got off easy again. He struck out Maldonado looking at a pitch that appeared out of the strike zone.

"I thought Tommy pitched a super game," Cox said. "We just didn't do anything with the bat. It's been that way the whole series -- for both teams. It has come down to the pitching."

The matchup of Glavine and Key was the first of opposing left-handers in World Series play since the St. Louis Cardinals sent Joe Magrane against Minnesota Twins left-hander Frank Viola in the seventh game in 1987. This one was only possible because Gaston abandoned his three-man starting rotation after Morris and David Cone ran into trouble working on three days' rest in the playoffs.

"I said at the beginning of the playoffs that I felt some of our pitchers had thrown a lot of innings," Gaston said. "I also felt that Jimmy deserved to start this game. He's one of the few guys who has been around here as long as I have."

"Cito felt that the matchup was better with the right-handers going against Oakland," Key said of the Athletics' predominantly right-handed hitting lineup. "The layoff was a concern. I was just hoping they would give me a shot and I'm just glad they did."

Gaston would not be sorry for his decision. Key gave up several hard-hit balls in the first inning, but he settled down in a hurry. The Braves opened the first with back-to-back singles, but Key picked leadoff man Otis Nixon off first and followed up the second hit of the inning with a string of 16 straight outs.

"I was very fortunate," he said. "In the first inning, I was getting the ball up. Usually, when I have trouble, it's in the early innings, but I was fortunate some balls were hit right at people. Then I got my feet on the ground and started to make good pitches."

He gave way to Ward after the Braves scored a run in the eighth and put the tying run at second base, but it was an outstanding performance for a veteran pitcher who had once been the left-handed centerpiece of the Blue Jays rotation.

It may have been his last in a Toronto uniform. Key will be eligible for free agency after the World Series, and there is reason to believe that he may not be back.

"I wasn't thinking about that during the game," he said, "but it did cross my mind when I was leaving the mound. That's why I tipped my cap to the crowd. I don't usually do that, but it was a special moment."

Key wasn't the only Blue Jay to hear the roar of the crowd. Borders finally got to hear something other than the criticism he has received for his inability to control the opposition's running game. He got a raucous ovation as he circled the bases in the third inning, which had to take some of the sting out of the record 27 bases stolen against him over the course of the postseason.

The home run extended his postseason hitting streak to 12 games, dating back to the fourth game of the 1991 American League Championship Series against Minnesota. He hit .318 in this year's playoffs and has a career .333 average (18-for-54) in postseason play.

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