The American league championship Series was spinning out of control like some NASA space probe when Toronto Blue Jay pitcher Juan Guzman climbed the SkyDome mound for Game 5 on Sunday night. For the first time in ALCS history, the home team had failed to win any of the first four games. The White Sox had dropped the first two in Chicago and appeared on the verge of imploding, what with their hometown fans dogging them, their ace pitcher getting pasted and their two biggest egos whining about riding the bench. As usual Chicago manager Gene Lamont was calmly steering this misfit club through another mess, though he should have sent some of his players off to bed without their warm milk and cookies.
Naturally the Blue Jays couldn't bury such a vulnerable opponent. "A microcosm of our season," said designated hitter Paul Molitor. "We have a tendency to let teams back in it when we get in good position." In Games 3 and 4 in Toronto the White Sox turned to two of their Generation X starting pitchers, and the Jays failed to win either game. By then the series was tied, two losses apiece.
It was left to Guzman to take control of matters. Control? Guzman? The same guy who set a league record this season with 26 wild pitches? The same pitcher who yielded the third-most walks in the league? The same man who in Game 1 walked a career-worst eight batters, hit another, unleashed three wild pitches and scared the wits out of the fans behind home plate? The same Guzman who would go through half a dozen baseballs just warming up in the minor leagues? "He'd throw 'em over the screen, the fence, whatever," says Toronto pitching coach Galen Cisco, who was Guzman's pitching coach at Triple A Syracuse in 1989. "You had to take five or six baseballs with you to the bullpen to get him loose before a game."
Yes, it was the same Guzman out there, but this time with the benefit of a remedial course in throwing strikes. Last Thursday morning Cisco escorted Guzman to the SkyDome bullpen and told him, "Let's see how many strikes you can throw in a row. Forget about trying to hit corners. Throw it down the middle. As many times as you can." And so reserve catcher Randy Knorr squatted behind the plate, set a target dead center and for the next 20 minutes or so hardly needed to move it. "I had Juan throwing strikes just for the benefit of his confidence," Cisco said. "He just needs a reminder once in a while."
Sure enough, Cisco's kid righted the ALCS. With nary a wild pitch and but one base on balls, he allowed the White Sox only one run over seven innings while facing three batters above the minimum. You want control? Guzman was in control of the baseball the way Jimmy Johnson is in control of a comb. With Toronto finally winning in its own building, 5-3, and Guzman accounting for its second victory, the Blue Jays took a three-games-to-two lead as the series moved back to Chicago. Guzman, ready for the trip, clutched a customs form in his left hand as he answered questions in front of his locker. Anything to declare, sir? "My stuff was great today," he said.
Even when he's not sure where the ball's going, Guzman has terrific stuff—in particular a hellacious slider—as evidenced by his phenomenal career record. Including the postseason, he has started 90 major league games and been beaten only 11 times and not once in his 15 trip to the mound since July 20. He has won 45 of those 90 starts and is 5-0 with a 2.04 ERA in six career postseason appearances, which is a better than modest return on a 1987 trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers for infielder Mike Sharperson. "The only chance to beat him," Molitor says, "is when he beats himself." The White Sox were looking to foil him by more blunt means. "I was hoping someone might hit him with a line drive," outfielder Tim Raines said.
Guzman started Game 2 of the 1991 ALCS (behind Tom Candiotti) and Game 3 of the 1992 ALCS (behind Jack Morris and David Cone). This time he was Toronto's No. 1 pitcher. With less than three full years of major league service, Guzman, 27, has established himself as a clutch postseason pitcher near the level of Morris and Dave Stewart, whose victory in Game 2 was his seventh without a loss in LCS play. Stewart and Guzman were a combined 12-0 with a 2.08 ERA in 14 LCS games entering Stewart's start in Game 6 on Tuesday. "We are different pitchers," Guzman said. "He is more of a finesse pitcher, and I am a power pitcher. What we have in common is heart. We do our very best in the big games."
So dominant was Guzman on Sunday that he retired the first 13 hitters before Ellis Burks popped a home run. By then the Blue Jays had put up four runs, three of them off 22-game winner Jack McDowell, who couldn't make it out of the third inning. It was the second time in the series that McDowell didn't have jack. He gave up an ALCS-record 13 hits in losing Game 1 to Guzman 7-3. "We were kind of happy to see him out there, knowing we've hit him well," Toronto outfielder Joe Carter said.
Actually the White Sox started the series by sending Michael Jordan to the mound. It was Jordan who threw out the first ball of Game 1. Let it be recorded that White Sox catcher Ron Karkovice was at the end of Jordan's last assist, for only a few innings later Comiskey Park was abuzz with the word that Jordan would announce his retirement the following morning. The news so eclipsed the Sox's first postseason game in 10 years that Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman of both the White Sox and the Bulls, dispatched Sox general manager Ron Schueler to apologize to the team before Game 2.
"Jerry wanted them to know that as far as he is concerned, this is the most important thing," Lamont said. "Michael didn't want to rain on our parade. It happened that way. Jerry felt bad about it."
Another day, another insult for the Sox, who have not won a postseason series since 1917. The crosstown Cubs chose not to wait for an off day in the series to fire their manager, Jim Lefebvre. Instead they did it during Game 2 and sent a release around the Comiskey Park press box announcing the move. Such is life in Chicago, where the fourth-place Cubs outdrew the White Sox this season. The Sox's attendance has declined for two straight seasons since new Comiskey Park opened in 1991, and even when Comiskey is filled, as it was last week, it can be awfully quiet. "Ghost town" is how shortstop Ozzie Guillen describes his home stadium.
Most of the 46,101 on hand for Game 2 left in a foul mood. It was bad enough that Stewart, pitching with no outs in the sixth and the bases as jammed as the city's Kennedy Expressway, set down three straight Sox without allowing a run. The fans were angry too at the replacement for injured Frank Thomas in the field, Dan Pasqua, who dropped one throw at first base, butchered another and left five runners on base; and at Lamont, who for a second straight day chose not to use Bo Jackson. So the fans backed their team in its 3-1 loss with several rounds of booing.
Jackson displayed a similar lack of class, somehow finding it odd that Lamont would dare use Pasqua instead of someone who had fanned 106 times in 284 at bats this year and was a lifetime .199 hitter against Toronto pitching. "We've been playing for two days one man short," Jackson said after Game 2. An irritated Lamont said the next day, "I don't like comments like that. If Bo went 0 for 4 with four strikeouts, I would hope no one would say we played one man short. I'm upset because I think it was directed not only toward me, but it was also directed toward a player."
The next day brought Lamont still another crisis, this one from George Bell, a second DH driven to repugnancy by two games on the bench. Bell, who had finished the year on an 0-for-23 tear, told The Toronto Sun he had no respect for Lamont "as a manager or a man" and that as many as 11 other players felt the same way. "The one thing George did," Lamont said, "is bite the hand of one of his biggest backers and most important backers."
Managing the White Sox is not exactly chaperoning a church outing. Schueler and Reinsdorf gave Lamont a roster with little flexibility and with huge egos in small roles. In addition to Jackson and Bell, Lamont was saddled this year with Steve Sax, Bobby Thigpen, Carlton Fisk and Dave Stieb—all of them former All-Stars who were given little to do. Even Schueler admitted Lamont "has been the calm in the storm. This is an extremely hard team to manage, partly because the players we brought over to be starting are now sitting on the bench. If he has one fault, it's that he's too honest. We found that out at his first press conference when he admitted he was a Cubs' fan."
In danger of departing the series without victory or honor, the White Sox rallied with two wins on the road. This happened for two reasons. First, no one paid serious attention to the comments of Jackson and Bell. "We're used to it," Raines said of the chaos. "It doesn't seem like anything comes easily with this team, though I admit we've never been through it in the playoffs before."
Secondly, Lamont used his only lefthanded starter, 23-year-old Wilson Alvarez, in Game 3. The Blue Jays hit 19 points worse against lefthanders this season and were 22-25 in games started by them. "They're as mystified and unable to explain it as I am," said Toronto batting coach Larry Hisle. "We have the kind of talent that should be delighted to see a lefthander out there." Predictably Alvarez beat the Jays 6-1 with a complete-game seven-hitter.
Though 22-year-old Jason Bere lasted only 2‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings in Game 4, the Sox won again, 7-4, because Toronto manager Cito Gaston allowed his starter, Todd Stottlemyre, to linger through a three-run sixth inning. With a 3-2 lead and the bases empty, Stottlemyre threw a very hittable fastball to Thomas, whom the Jays wisely had walked eight times in his previous 16 plate appearances. The Big Hurt crushed the pitch 433 feet to tie the score.
Three batters and two walks later, 160-pound Lance Johnson ripped a two-run triple to send Chicago ahead for good. Four innings earlier the Little Ouch had whacked his first home run in his last 690 at bats. Said Johnson, "A little guy came through tonight. There were a lot of little guys watching TV tonight. I know. I used to be one of them. Maybe they're saying, 'If he can do it, I can do it.' "
Guzman, pitching on the day after the Dodgers dumped Sharperson, then restored order in Game 5. He even kept Johnson in the park. So sure was Guzman of victory that he didn't bother sticking around for the ninth; with the Jays leading 5-1 he retired to the weight room for some routine arm exercises.
He didn't see closer Duane Ward serve up a two-run homer to Robin Ventura and then hit Burks with a pitch. That brought up Jackson, representing the tying run. Lamont had started Jackson for a third straight game as the DH. Seventy-six years after Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Sox last won a postseason series. Chicago left it up to another Jackson, Clueless Bo. Jackson swung through a third strike for the final out, leaving him hitless in 10 at bats in which he whiffed six times and was routinely overmatched. At least the Sox displayed good comportment afterward. No one complained they had played one man short.