CHICAGO -- Dave Stewart rose to the occasion once again here last night.
For the fourth time in his career, Stewart pitched the pennant-clinching game as the Toronto Blue Jays won their second straight American League championship with a 6-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox. It was the second win of the series for Stewart, voted the series Most Valuable Player after stretching his career ALCS record to 8-0.
Although at times struggling with his control, and without overpowering stuff, Stewart limited the White Sox to four hits in 7 1/3 innings. He walked four, hit a batter and struck out three before Duane Ward came on to record the last five outs and earn his second save of the series.
Catcher Pat Borders, the MVP of last year's World Series, gave Stewart the bulk of the support he needed by driving in the Blue Jays' first three runs. All three came at the expense of hard-luck loser Alex Fernandez, who was victimized by his own defense for the second time.
Devon White's first postseason homer, a bases-empty shot off Scott Radinsky, and Paul Molitor's two-run triple off Roberto Hernandez broke the game open in the ninth inning. Warren Newson hit a meaningless homer off Ward in the ninth inning.
The going-away win enabled the Blue Jays to avoid a seventh playoff game and gives them three days off at home, where they open the World Series Saturday against either the Philadelphia Phillies or the Atlanta Braves.
Going into the game, the White Sox felt the elements (it was a brisk 46 degrees when the first pitch was thrown) would work in their favor. But they were unable to generate any kind of sustained threat against Stewart.
During the regular season, Fernandez had a 4-0 record and a 1.12 ERA in games played with the temperature below 50. But, after an easy first inning, erratic control cost him two runs as the Blue Jays took a quick lead in the second.
John Olerud walked on four pitches and Molitor was hit by a pitch to put the Blue Jays in motion. After Tony Fernandez sacrificed, Ed Sprague also walked.
With the bases loaded, Chicago's Fernandez could not afford to be overly cautious. Borders took advantage by drilling a single to right field, scoring Olerud and Molitor. Rickey Henderson then hit into a force and White grounded out to end the inning.
Despite a four-pitch walk to Robin Ventura in the second, Stewart breezed through the first two innings. But then, he too had a control lapse.
With one out in the third, Ozzie Guillen dropped a double between Joe Carter and White and Tim Raines slapped a ground single to left. Stewart hit Joey Cora with a 3-and-2 pitch to load the bases and set up a confrontation with Frank Thomas.
The White Sox slugger prevailed, but only after getting a favorable checked-swing call on an inside 2-and-2 pitch and then taking a breaking ball that just missed the outside corner. Thomas' walk forced in the first run and the White Sox forged a 2-2 tie when Raines scored on Ventura's forcing grounder before Ellis Burks grounded out to end the inning.
An inning later a pair of defensive breakdowns by the White Sox presented the Blue Jays with a 3-2 lead. Molitor reached base when Ventura booted his grounder and went to third on Sprague's one-out single.
Borders then hit what should have been a routine double-play ball to Guillen at shortstop. Sprague was an easy out at second, and Cora had plenty of time to complete the play, but threw the ball in the dirt and it skipped past Thomas for an error.
The Blue Jays then threatened to break the game open in the sixth, but were thwarted by Fernandez, who challenged the heart of the lineup and won. White singled to open the inning and went to third when Roberto Alomar poked a hit-and-run single through the left side.
With runners on first and third and nobody out, Fernandez struck out Carter on a vicious breaking ball. Then, after Alomar stole second, Olerud was jammed by a blistering fastball and popped up.
When the count went to 3-and-1 on Molitor, he was given an intentional walk, loading the bases. Alex Fernandez then wrapped up a magnificent performance by getting Tony Fernandez to pop out to end the threat.
But the White Sox were able to generate only one other threat before Stewart left in the eighth inning.
Mike LaValliere walked to lead off the seventh, but after a sacrifice bunt by Guillen, pinch runner Ron Karkovice was doubled off second base on Raines' line drive to Alomar at second.
After the third inning, Stewart allowed only one hit, a sixth-inning single by Burks, before Thomas scalded a one-hopper past Tony Fernandez with one out in the eighth inning. When Ventura hit Stewart's next offering deep down the right-field line, but barely foul, it was enough of a signal for Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston.
Ward was summoned from the bullpen and easily dispatched Ventura on a checked-swing strikeout and Burks, who looked at a third strike to end the threat.