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 postseason 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 any more 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 this regular season, but he is 0-for-playoffs, 0-for-World Series, and his legend as glory’s closer has been seriously tarnished.
Forgive me if I do not weep.
Hey, Jack is Jack. He enjoys confrontations. He knows the risks. He’s 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 connected, looked up, and slowed to a walk. Outta here. No sense rushing. Morris did what
he has done time after time in his career: went after a guy with heat and got burned.
Since that was his sixth home run surrendered since the playoffs started, I figure Jack was not surprised. Hey, that wasn’t even the first homer he gave up Thursday. Morris 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.
I n more ways than one. The Blue Jays spent a fortune to get Morris in the off-season, precisely so he could lead them to the Promised 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 win 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!
“We really wanted to win it here and not have to go back to Atlanta,” Cito Gaston, the Jays’ manager, sighed after the 7-2 defeat. “Did I stay with Jack too long? I guess the results show I did. . . . It just didn’t work out.”
Not for Morris, not for Canada. 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-ever World Series won outside the United States. The Jays fans were into this game as if it were their life story. Every key pitch, they were on their feet. And there they were, cheering in that fifth inning, as Morris reached back . . .
So much for the cheering. 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. Hey, the fans here are not dumb. They know what Morris is supposed to do. In postseason: Three losses, six home runs, and an ERA of 8.44 in the World Series is not it.
Funny, no, 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 the ball was an extra base hit, it was too late for him get home. He wound up at third, where he was stranded. Had he scored that run, the Braves might be defending World Series champs today. Instead, they lost, 1-0, in 10 innings.
Morris was the hero, Smith the goat.
Thursday night, the tables were turned. In the Braves locker room, Smith, who usually shuns the media, spoke of “how fortunate I was to hit that pitch out.” He said he was hoping for a fastball from Morris, and he got one.
Not far away, John Smoltz was enjoying himself even more. You may recall it was Smoltz on the mound opposite Morris in Game 7 last year. He pitched beautifully. A shutout. But he didn’t get the win.
Thursday night, Smoltz — who would wind up the victor — was watching from the dugout when Smith’s home run cleared the wall. He jumped up and cheered. A year, he had been waiting to do that. A year.
That’s sports. Win some, lose some. Down the hall, Morris faced the music
— and the microphones.
“Did you hear them booing?” he was asked.
“What booing? If I were bothered by booing, I would have left the game six or seven years ago.”
“What happens now?” he was asked.
“Now, we have to rely on guys who are pitching better than I am.”
“What will you think when you look back on this season?” he was asked.
“I don’t recall announcing my retirement,” Jack said.
And neither do the Braves. Say this for those guys in the Atlanta uniforms: 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 runs, 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.
He’s got plenty of time now.