TORONTO — TORONTO -- They may be leading the World Series three games to two, but it seems as though the Toronto Blue Jays are the team facing a must-win situation tonight.
That's primarily because of the Dave Stewart mystique. The veteran right-hander is considered to be the right man in the right place at the right time. But if he doesn't beat Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Terry Mulholland in Game 6 tonight, a lot of people think the Blue Jays will be finished.
How soon they forget. It was only a year ago that Jack Morris was in the same situation. But the Blue Jays won the World Series in six games without a win from Morris, who was hired specifically for his postseason excellence.
Within minutes of the Phillies' 2-0 win Thursday night, all the attention in the Blue Jays' clubhouse was focused on Stewart. How would he approach the game? Was it comforting for the Blue Jays to know they had the tested veteran to pitch such a big game?
It remained for Stewart to put the situation in perspective. "I think we have two good chances to win -- Saturday when I pitch or Sunday with Pat Hentgen," he said.
Because Hentgen is a rookie, the notion of the Blue Jays having to win a seventh game with him pitching has created an unsettling effect. Forgotten is the fact that he has won more games this year (20, including Game 3 of the World Series) than any other pitcher on the scene.
If nothing else, the situation has created an atmosphere that Hentgen is "all" the Blue Jays have to offer after Stewart.
And the Phillies would like nothing better than to have the Blue Jays think they have to win tonight to become the first team to repeat as World Series champion in 15 years. They have a certain amount of bravado going against Stewart, stemming from their 6-4 victory against him in Game 2.
That game, however, was as misleading as the idea that the Blue Jays are down to the last chance tonight. Stewart gave up five runs in the third inning of his loss -- but struck out five of the last 10 batters he faced.
"I wasn't upset about anything in the first start except the walks [four]," he said. "If I stay away from a five-run inning, I'll be OK."
As much as he relishes these opportunities, Stewart has been around long enough not to take anything for granted. "If we could've done it [Thursday night], it would have been good," he said. "But we didn't, so I'm looking forward to it [tonight's start].
"A good note for me to carry into the game would be to not give up five free passes [walks]. I've watched them and I can appreciate their patience at the plate -- especially with their big hitters. I'm going to have to go right after them, try to stay away from deep counts."
Besides Stewart, the Blue Jays have another intangible they seem to rely on, perhaps to an extreme. Paul Molitor, in his first year with the team, explained it during the playoffs, when he said the more the Blue Jays are pressed, the better they play.
"We're going home happy," second baseman Roberto Alomar said after the Phillies stayed alive Thursday night. "We won [Game 4 Wednesday night] when we didn't expect to, so we got two out of three in the other team's stadium. That's a pretty good situation to be in with the pitchers we've got available. Now we go home to our stadium, our crowd."
Devon White, along with Alomar one of several MVP candidates, touched on the subject of the Blue Jays' resilience after the loss in Game 5. "The truth is that we've always had a tendency to make things difficult for ourselves," said the sleek center fielder.
"That is this club's trademark. We've never taken the easy route. Who knows? Maybe it takes a little pressure to bring out the best in us."
Maybe so, but the Blue Jays hardly want to run the risk of testing that theory once too often. You don't turn it on and off in a World Series.
The reality of the situation is that the Blue Jays returned home with the Series lead only because of the Phillies' collapse in Game 4. They came very close to being one step from extinction.
Which might explain the urgency connected to tonight's game. The Blue Jays have reached this unlikely scenario without a win from either of their top two pitchers (Stewart and Juan Guzman).
Going in, the odds of the Blue Jays winning the World Series without either of those two gaining a victory were huge. Some might even say insurmountable.
Stewart is looking to alleviate all that tonight. If he doesn't, the rookie with 20 wins, Hentgen, is waiting in the wings for the curtain call nobody in these parts wants to see.