New look gets Jays to same place


CHICAGO -- When they opened training camp this year, they needed a master of ceremonies to handle the introductions. But that didn't deter the Toronto Blue Jays, who are now in position to become the first team in 15 years to repeat as World Series champions.

Not since the New York Yankees in 1977 and 1978 has a team won the World Series in successive years. Now, the first team to take the World Series across the border is as close to becoming a dynasty as any team has been in 20 years, since the Oakland Athletics pulled off a three-peat in 1972 through 1974. And the Blue Jays have reached this point while also going through a period of transition.

"We lost a lot of good people off last year's team," manager Cito Gaston said amid the euphoria that soaked the Blue Jays clubhouse after Tuesday night's 6-3, American League pennant-clinching win over the Chicago White Sox. Gaston was referring to players such as Dave Winfield, Jimmy Key, Tom Henke and David Cone, free agents who signed on elsewhere.

Overall, the Blue Jays roster underwent a 40 percent turnover, with 10 additions to the 25-man roster. "We got some good people in return," said Gaston, "and they fit right in."

It didn't hurt that the Blue Jays also had the best nucleus in baseball to go along with the financial wherewithal and astute front-office judgment. "A lot of the credit has to go to [general manager] Pat Gillick and our scouts," said club president Paul Beeston.

It took the Blue Jays four tries to get over the divisional hump and win a pennant, and in some ways their most recent win was the most difficult of all. They struggled at times during the regular season, when it looked as if the pitching might not hold up, but when it came to crunch time, the Blue Jays had more than enough to repeat.

"When I was chasing this team [as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers], it seemed like the closer we got, the better they played," said Blue Jays designated hitter Paul Molitor. "That definitely carried over to this year."

At the end, when the Yankees, Orioles, Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox faded from AL East contention and the White Sox disbanded their offense in the American League Championship Series, the Blue Jays' biggest weakness became primary strength.

Gaston, though lacking pitching depth, knew he had a premier stopper in Juan Guzman and a proven big-game winner in Dave Stewart. Those two combined for only 26 wins during the regular season, but registered all four of the Blue Jays' playoff victories. One loss by either Guzman or Stewart probably would have doomed the Blue Jays in the playoffs. The same very well may hold true in the World Series, but the two right-handers represent formidable obstacles.

They have contrasting styles -- Guzman is overpowering enough to blow hitters away, but Stewart's firepower has been replaced by finesse. They may go about it differently, but the results are similar.

Stewart's determination, he said, comes from his upbringing.

"I had parents who knew how to work and what to do to get things done," Stewart said after pitching the pennant clincher in Game 6 on Tuesday night. "My father was a hard worker, a longshoreman. He worked hard until the day he died. My mother then had the responsibility of raising eight kids, putting bread in our mouths and shoes on our feet."

By contrast, Stewart said, "I'm living a childhood dream, an adult playing a kid's game."

But when he goes to the pitching mound, especially in October, Stewart is not playing games. At this time of year, having fun or not, he's all business.

The Blue Jays hope it continues to be business as usual.

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