TORONTO — Jack Morris has always been a vindictive cuss when it comes to the media, so it didn’t surprise me Wednesday night — the night before he was supposed to win the World Series for his latest employers, the Toronto Blue Jays — that he singled me out in front of a group of reporters.
“Hey, Mitch!” he bellowed, “I saw that little column you wrote last week in Oakland. So I can’t pitch anymore, huh?”
I tried to ignore him. That usually works best.
“So I can’t pitch anymore, huh?” he repeated.
Actually, I never said he couldn’t pitch. I said he didn’t have the stuff in the post-season that he had in the regular season. Anyone could have said that. Anyone with eyes and a scorebook.
“So I can’t pitch anymore, huh?” Morris crowed, drawing nervous laughter from the other writers. “I can’t pitch anymore?”
Well, Jack, it’s Friday morning, and who knows? Maybe you can’t.
You won’t be pitching anymore this season, that’s for sure. Not after Lonnie Smith knocked you all the way to the airport with that grand slam in the fifth inning Thursday night. To quote Crash Davis in “Bull Durham”: “Boy, that one got out in a hurry.” So much for the Miracle Morris cure. Jack may have been worth his weight in gold during the regular season, but he is 0-for-this-postseason, and his legend as glory’s closer has been seriously tarnished.
Forgive me if I do not weep.
But Jack is Jack. He enjoys confrontations. He is a smart man with a quick temper and a competitive streak that gets the best of him sometimes. He had two outs and two strikes on Smith, and he was still in this World Series Game 5 when he tried to smoke a fastball. Smith swung, looked up, and began to walk. Outta here. No sense rushing. Morris had done what he has done time after time in his career. Gone after a guy and gotten burned.
It wasn’t the first time. Hey, it wasn’t even the first time Thursday night. Morris had lost a battle with David Justice in the fourth inning, a high forkball that Justice smacked so hard you could hear it crying as it headed to the seats. The upper deck seats. In rightfield.
You could say Justice was served.
In more ways than one. The Blue Jays spent a small fortune to get Morris in the off-season, precisely so he could lead them to the Promsied Land. But they will have to do it without him now, and, in doing so, they will have to prove that it takes more that a big wallet to win a World Series. The Jays still have an excellent chance, needing only one victory in the remaining two games. But there is no mistaking the air that was let out of this country when Smith made his banging connection. Talk about the North Wind!
This was supposed to be Toronto’s night. The SkyDome was packed; the champagne was ready in the Blue Jays’ gorgeous locker room. Headlines had been prepared for the first World Series won outside the United States. Nostalgic figures such as Bob Bailor, the first player the Blue Jays selected in their expansion draft, and now their first base coach, spun tales of the bad old days.
“The first game we ever played, back in 1977, it was a terrible snowstorm. The field was covered in snow. . . . They had to use a Zamboni machine to clear it off.
“But the thing I remember most? It was the buildup to that first pitch. It was unbelievable. The Canadian people were so excited to be getting baseball, and it was like that one pitch was the symbol of it all. People were on their feet, in parkas and hoods, they were freezing, but they were cheering that one pitch, that first pitch.”
Just as they were cheering on Morris’ fastball.
They weren’t cheering for long. Moments after Smith had rounded the bases and scored Atlanta’s seventh run, Morris was heading for the showers. Believe me when I tell you there were an awful lot of boos. And they weren’t even coming from the press box. The fans here are not dumb. They know what Morris was supposed to do. Six home runs in the postseason and an ERA of nearly 9.00 in the World Series is not it.
Isn’t it funny, the ups and downs of life?
C onsider the man who did Morris in, Lonnie Smith. Until Thursday night, his most burning World Series memory was nearly losing last year’s Game 7 singlehandedly. He lost track of a Terry Pendleton fly ball to deep left-center. He held up, fooled by the Minnesota infielders, and by the time he realized that the ball was in for an extra-base hit, it was too late for him to score. He wound up only at third, where he was stranded. Had he scored that run, the Braves might be defending World Series champs right now. Instead, they lost 1-0 in 10 innings.
Morris was the hero, Smith the goat.
Not anymore. Thursday was not complete retribution, but Smith will take it. So will John Smoltz. You may recall it was Smoltz on the mound opposite Morris in that Game 7 last year. He pitched beautifully. A shutout. But he didn’t get the win.
Thursday night, Smoltz was watching from the dugout when Smith’s home run cleared the wall. The pitcher jumped up and cheered. A year he had been waiting to do that. A year.
And so goes baseball, with this series now at 3-2. Say this for the Braves: they don’t know how to die. Here they are, treating every run in this Series as if it were a quart of blood, and suddenly, facing elimination, they explode for seven, the biggest total so far in this series. This is the same team that won the pennant in the bottom of the ninth. Could we be looking at one of the greatest World Series comebacks in the making?
Who knows? We thought we were looking at one of its greatest clutch pitchers for a while there, too. Funny thing about baseball. It has a way of keeping you humble.
I plan to.