TORONTO — In the fifth inning of this city’s last baseball game of the year, a fan jumped the fence, ran to centerfield and pulled down his pants. The fans roared. This way, they got to see a moon and stars in a single evening.

Unfortunately, the stars they saw were courtesy of the Minnesota Twins, who, after stranding more men than the Iraqi army, finally said, “Well, heck. If you really want to give us this championship . . . ” and pounded the Blue Jays for eight runs. Twins win! They go to the World Series! And well they should. They deserve it. Anyone who is upset that Toronto didn’t capture the pennant obviously wasn’t watching baseball this year.

Remember, the Jays got here by winning the AL Least, where the motto is,
“Let the other guy have it.” In fact, the Blue Jays’ practically handing the title to Minnesota on Sunday is exactly what they tried to do all summer with the Tigers and Red Sox. Of course, that doesn’t say much for the Tigers and Red Sox. But we are not here to talk about them, thank goodness.

We cannot help, however, but talk about how many ways the Jays seemed ready to lose this series. Never mind all the errors (seven in five games) or the bad starting pitching (a 5.87 ERA) or the highly questionable managing. Never mind that they were swept in their home dome, three games up, three games down. There seemed to be something even bigger at work here. In Toronto, as in Boston, they believe the postseason is as friendly as a vampire
— “HAVEN’T WE SEEN THIS NIGHTMARE BEFORE?” read a headline in the local newspaper — and after Sunday, you could hardly blame them.

This is a team that, in a single game Sunday, 1) gave up a home run in the first inning 2) threw two passed balls to the same batter, 3) allowed two Minnesota men to reach first base on dropped third strikes and 4) missed a tag at home, when the catcher touched the runner with his right hand. Unfortunately, the ball was in his left.

Goodness! It’s enough to make a manager scream at his players! And Cito Gaston might have done that, had he not been ejected from the game in the second inning.

Maybe Cito knew what was coming, and couldn’t bear to watch. Jays’ choke label sticking?

“They were the better team,” sighed Devon White in the Blue Jays’ locker room after the loss.

“They did what they wanted to do,” Joe Carter added.

A reporter found Gaston, and asked a tough question. “Will this series continue to foster the Blue Jays’ reputation for choking?”

“That,” Gaston said, “depends on you guys.”

Gee, Cito. That’s an awful big responsibility. After all, it wasn’t the press that lost three straight AL championship series. Then again, all those negative headlines can’t help. When I came into the Toronto airport, even the customs guy said to me, “Today will be the last game the Jays play at the dome this year, eh?”

Nothing like confidence.

But this should surprise no one. Shoot. If Boston had gone to this series? Or the Tigers? It wouldn’t have been any better. After all, the West has now won five pennants in a row, tying the longest such streak since they split the game into divisions. “It seems like the West teams have built a lot of powerhouses recently,” White said. “Back in the early 80’s it was the East that won. Now, I don’t know, the West just seems stronger.”

You’ll get no argument from fans here who watched Minnesota bang out 14 hits Sunday and come from behind yet again. That was impressive. But what is truly impressive is that the Twins were a last-place team in the West last year. And this year, they clobber the AL East champion in just one game over the minimum.

Makes you feel like you live in the wrong time zone, doesn’t it? Peaking at the right time

In the Minnesota clubhouse, the mood was jubilant. “We played great since spring training, and we just kept getting better,” gushed a champagne-soaked Kirby Puckett, who was named MVP of the series with a .429 batting average. “I didn’t really expect to get to the World Series after finishing last, but we just kept going. And now, here we are.”

Yes. And it’s worth noting that this group of Twins seems even more deserving than the last group, which won it all in 1987 — at the Tigers’ expense — despite having the worst regular-season record of all four playoff teams.

This year’s Twins added Jack Morris and Chili Davis. They made adjustments as the season progressed. They are a strong hitting team with some excellent pitching, and whoever comes to the dance from the National League will have its hands full.

“Today is just proof that hard work pays off,” said Morris, the former Tiger, who pitched two gems in this series. “I really didn’t expect to come in here and sweep them in their building, but hey, I’m glad we didn’t have to play those last two games.”

What he didn’t say is that he’s also glad to be on the western half of baseball this time around, as opposed to the east, where, mercifully, given the way they played, the sun has now set on the Blue Jays.

And, thanks to that fan, so has the moon.

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