After manager Gene Lamont had been stung two days in a row by criticism from two of his least productive players, the White Sox revived their dormant offense last night.
Overall, the White Sox fashioned a 12-hit attack to back a strong pitching performance by Wilson Alvarez that wiped out memories of the first two games. The win enabled the AL Western Division champions to trim the Blue Jays' lead in the best-of-seven ALCS to 2-1. The series resumes here tonight, and continues tomorrow afternoon.
Lamont spent a lot of time the two previous days defending himself after being blasted by Bo Jackson and George Bell. Jackson, who struck out three times, walked and popped out last night, was critical of his inaction in the first two games.
A day later, Bell, hardly a stranger to such tactics, ripped Lamont for not using him instead of Jackson in Game 3 last night. But if the turmoil surrounding them had any effect on the White Sox it must have been beneficial.
And it wasn't spurred by any words from Lamont, who decided against a pre-game meeting.
"I didn't say anything to them, and I'll tell you why," Lamont said after the game. "I didn't think I needed to say anything. It [the published criticisms] took up a lot of my time, but I don't think it bothered the players. Sometimes you can just see it in their eyes."
The White Sox responded fittingly. They had failed to cash several opportunities in losing 7-3 and 3-1 decisions to the Blue Jays, but last night it was the defending World Series champions who made critical mistakes and failed to take advantage of prime scoring opportunities.
"I felt all along, and I think my teammates did, too, that one big hit would open the floodgates," said Raines. "And that's what happened."
After leaving 23 runners on base while losing Games 1 and 2, the White Sox came out swinging against Blue Jays starter Pat Hentgen. The rookie right-hander was rapped for nine hits and all of the White Sox runs before departing in the fourth inning.
Meanwhile, Alvarez shut down the Blue Jays on seven hits, only one after the fourth inning, in a route-going performance. The hard-throwing, 23-year-old left-hander struck out six and walked two in his first postseason appearance.
"In the first couple of innings I was trying to overthrow," said Alvarez. "But I didn't feel any pressure. I wasn't nervous. I knew warming up in the bullpen that I had good stuff -- I just had to throw strikes."
The Blue Jays missed a chance to tighten their grip on the series in the second inning, when Alvarez worked out of his first jam. Back-to-back singles by John Olerud and Roberto Alomar (breaking an 0-for-8 slump) put runners on first and third with one out. But Tony Fernandez grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Hentgen was hit hard from the outset, but the game still could have been scoreless when he left in the fourth. Right fielder Joe Carter's leaping catch of a long two-out drive by Robin Ventura saved a run in the first inning.
An inning later, Ellis Burks led off with a single but was thrown out trying to steal while Jackson was striking out. But it was during that inning that Toronto manager Cito Gaston sensed this wouldn't be Hentgen's night.
"I didn't think Pat was throwing the ball too well," said Gaston, who made a trip to the mound while Jackson was hitting. "I wanted him to turn the ball loose."
Instead, the White Sox turned their bats loose, with just enough help, in the third inning. Hentgen got the first two hitters before unraveling.
Runners were on first and third, courtesy of singles by Raines and Joey Cora, when Thomas got to swing in a meaningful situation for the first time in the series. He responded with a sharp two-hopper that handcuffed third baseman Ed Sprague.
After Ventura walked to load the bases, Burks lined a double to left-center field, Jackson walked to re-load the bases and Johnson dumped a single into left field. By the time Ron Karkovice struck out for the second time in the inning, the White Sox had a 5-0 lead.
"When we scored the five runs, I said 'OK, that's the game,' " said Alvarez. "I knew I could do it."
The Blue Jays had one chance to get back into the game in the fourth, when they loaded the bases with one out. But, for the second straight time, Fernandez was no match for Alvarez, striking out before Sprague's fly to center.
"Those were the two biggest outs of the game," said Lamont, who said he wasn't worried about the pressure bothering Alvarez. "It's a lot easier to not get nervous when you have great stuff -- and Wilson's got great stuff."
From that point on, Alvarez was in command.
"I said after the first two games that when we broke out of it [a slump] during the regular season, we usually did it as a team," said Lamont. "Hopefully that happened again tonight."
Lamont won't have to wait long to find out.
In the meantime, he might think about looking around for another controversy. Judging by what happened last night, it won't hurt the White Sox.
AL PLAYOFFS TONIGHT
GAME 4 (Blue Jays lead series, 2-1) Site: SkyDome, Toronto
White Sox starter: Jason Bere (12-5, 3.47)
Blue Jays starter: Todd Stottlemyre (11-12, 4.84)
TV: Channels 11, 9
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)