Cocky Blue Jays make foes angry, but unsuccessful Toronto's effortless excellence frustrates beaten Yankees


TORONTO -- All weekend the New York Yankees talked about beating the Toronto Blue Jays once -- just once -- and not letting this Canadian corporation add another Eastern Division title to its portfolio. The big-money, big-profit, big-ego Jays celebrating in the Yankees' face? Anything but that, they said. Anything to stop the Jays from being even more smug than they already are.

"They bother me. They bother a lot of us," Don Mattingly said. "You walk in their stadium and they think they're better than you. That's the way a world championship team is, really confident, really cocky. Does it offend me? I'd like to turn it around. I'd like to beat them and take the cockiness away from them."

Maybe some year. The best the Yankees could do in 1993 was avoid getting swept at SkyDome, when all of Canada was expecting Toronto's third straight division title and fourth in five years. But the Yankees shouldn't have worried about any public humiliation. The image of a wild, on-field explosion, fans turning the Dome into a frat party, and champagne-chugging contests in the clubhouse doesn't quite fit in the Jays' karma.

They don't party. They don't emote. Sometimes they play the game without any effort at all, which is most frustrating to a little band of overachievers like the Yankees. In fact, when the Jays finally do clinch the East -- tonight in Milwaukee, or tomorrow or whenever -- they'll consider the event as routine as . . . well, clinching the East.

"The main goal for this team is still a couple of steps away," Paul Molitor said. "I don't think anyone will feel like it's a good year unless we go a lot further than winning this division."

"We said last year winning the division wasn't enough, and it won't be this year, either," said Todd Stottlemyre, who absorbed a five-run pounding in the first inning yesterday. "The division isn't any real party for us. It's just the first step to the big one."

This is why opposing players become obsessed with the Jays. Since 1989, they have spent more money, drawn more fans and won more games than anyone else, and it was no surprise to see a poll in Baseball Weekly recently, which surveyed the American League populace and anointed the Jays as the Most Hated Team in Baseball.

To this, manager Cito Gaston just smiled. "It must be jealousy. What else could it be?" he said. "We've got good people here. It couldn't be because we're a bunch of jerks."

Well, some Yankees disagree. They see Rickey Henderson do a little side-step shuffle after his Friday night home run against Jimmy Key. They see Roberto Alomar and Tony Fernandez styling on their double-plays turns, ignoring every fundamental in the instruction manual. They see Devon White running down blasts in the gaps, making every effort to look as if he is expending no effort.

Sure the Yankees are jealous. As manager Buck Showalter said, "A guy like Devon is so talented, I swear I think the game of baseball bores him."

But what can the manager say? His Yankees were beaten in every aspect of the game this weekend, and the Jays' 12-1 run in September not only crushed the Yankees' pennant hopes, but may also very well leave them with a soiled memory of 1993.

Finishing second means everything to Showalter now. It will be enough to take two of three from the Orioles, just to prove that that summer-long chase of the Jays was more than just a faraway fantasy. But what a fantasy it was, making Toronto sweat for once. And make no mistake: The Yankees will be watching carefully to see how the Jays' high-octane offense matches up with Chicago's better-than-you-think pitching.

No Yankee wants to say publicly he's rooting for the Jays to be humbled, but even Key, once a Blue Jay himself, said: "I can see how they can rub people the wrong way. The Jays definitely have people who like to put on a show."

The New York Mets once had that swagger, although they prided themselves on being renegades. For them, it was cool to be out late, work the bars, get in trouble with the law -- or at least Mets management -- and then show up the next day and simply win. The Oakland A's had it, too, with all the same bad-boy energy.

"The A's bothered me like crazy, especially after the year they won it," Mattingly said. "But they won; they were allowed to act like that. The only thing you can do is beat them, take it away from them. The A's sure don't have that swagger to 'em now."

Now that title belongs to the Jays, who are all about money and agents and business deals. Cellular phones litter the clubhouse. Oh, yes, the Jays can play, but they'll hardly notice you as they win. The changing of the guard will happen sometime in this century, but don't ask the Yankees to be patient about it. Arrogance always seems to last forever.

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