TORONTO — TORONTO -- Before they could celebrate, the Blue Jays had to watch Duane Ward hang the ugliest slider in history. A real Jeff Robinson special. To Bo Jackson, of all people. With two outs in the ninth. A home run would tie it.
Nice timing, Ward-o.
Bo, who was hitless in the series, with five strikeouts in nine at-bats, took a cut as mighty as Casey's.
And fouled the ball into the seats.
L Then made it six strikeouts in 10 at-bats on the next pitch.
Bye, Bo, barely.
"I almost broke my bat over my knee when I fouled that last one off," he said. "I have never been so close [to mashing a pitch]. I knew what was coming. I saw it leave his hand."
The SkyDome sigh was heard across Canada. Because the Jays had played all day with no margin of error. None. Sorry, a Bo Moment just did not fit into the plans. The Jays had to win. As simple as that.
When the White Sox tied the American League playoffs by winning the third and fourth games, the task confronting the Jays became as obvious as Juan Guzman fastballs: They had to win Game 5. And Game 6. Or else.
Or else: Go ahead and schedule tentative golf dates for next week.
Because their chances in a Game 7, if it gets to that, will not be the least bit favorable.
Were ballplayers inclined to reveal their deepest, darkest secrets (they aren't), the Jays would have said the following after yesterday's 5-3 win, which gave them a 3-2 series lead:
Great. But if we don't win Game 6, we're in trouble.
Here's the deal: Guzman and Dave Stewart, the Jays' starting pitchers for Game 5 yesterday and Game 6 tomorrow night, are " among the best pressure pitchers in baseball. They thrive when it matters most. Their combined record in September and October, including postseason games, is a luminous 56-26.
That's beyond luck. That's some seriously steady nerves.
But if there is a Game 7, the Jays will have to start Pat Hentgen, a rookie who did win 19 games this year, but, since July, has been a hittable, .500 pitcher. And got blasted by the Sox the other night.
As well, the Sox's pitcher in Game 7 would be Wilson Alvarez, the left-hander who shut down the Jays the other night, as lefties are wont to do against the Jays.
See what we mean? It was down to a best-of-three series before Guzman's first pitch yesterday, but, for the Jays, the task was really to win two straight. Not that they'll forfeit if the series does go seven games, but you get the idea.
"Is there any pitcher you would rather have pitching a series clincher?" someone asked Cito Gaston yesterday.
"Cy Young," Gaston said. "That's about it."
No one asked anything about Hentgen. Except to ask if it was really true that he would start a game so big. (Which would mean that, in the end, the Jays would come up a pitcher short -- the
pitcher whom they failed to acquire when they traded for Rickey Henderson, whom they didn't need.)
Guzman is only 26 but way beyond questioning in these matters. He has an 18-3 record in September and October. He won the series clincher against the A's in the AL playoffs a year ago.
Get this: He has never lost a postseason game.
He didn't come close yesterday. He threw 96-mph fastballs. He threw curveballs and sliders that bent deliciously. He didn't allow a hit until the fifth inning, then left after seven, striking out six and giving up just three hits.
"He pretty much overpowered us," Sox manager Gene Lamont said.
Bo did have a chance to tie the game against him. There were two outs in the seventh, two runners on.
Four pitches. Bye, Bo.
Now, it's up to Stewart. His record has no equal. He has never lost a game in the AL playoffs. He twice won series clinchers for the A's.
"I can't think of a situation I like better," he said. "I look forward to it. It seems like I've been here time and time again."
There are caveats, of course. Stewart isn't the dominating pitcher he was from '87 to '90, when he compiled most of his record. He is 36 now, and a .500 pitcher this season until he finished with four straight wins in September.
He beat the Sox in Game 2, but it is fair to ask whether he is doing it now with mystique more than mustard. A lot of glare and guts and not as much forkball.
A combination that maybe, just maybe, the Sox can handle.
-! The Jays had better hope not.