The problem with the head is that it’s just above the shoulders. Damn inconvenient. I mean, let’s say I were to aim a baseball at your shoulders and try to get really close, which is perfectly legal, mind you, but let’s say the ball missed by just a tiny bit and it rose just a few teeny-weeny inches and then it smacked into your head. Well. Goodness! You might get the wrong idea. If you ever got up.

And so, when something like this happens, we turn to the umpires, who don’t worry about getting hit in the head because, in most cases, their heads are so big, a pitcher can easily identify them. And we ask the umpire, “Did the pitcher mean to do that on purpose, or was it just an accident?”

And the umpire says: “That depends. Can I open my eyes now?”

And then he makes the call. On Sunday, umpire Joe Brinkman made that call and sent Bill Gullickson to the showers, even though Gullickson didn’t need a shower, because he never broke a sweat. It was the top of the first inning, and Gullickson had made only five pitches, and two of those were home runs. The fourth was low and inside to Joe Carter, and the fifth smacked Carter in the batting helmet and sent him lumbering dizzily toward the mound, only to be half-tackled by Mickey Tettleton, who, we always knew, should probably be playing football, anyhow.

“I wasn’t aiming for his head,” Gullickson said. “I’d have to be crazy to do that. I was pitching him inside. The ball just got away.”

“He knew what he was doing,” Carter said. “He deliberately threw at me. It was stupid for him. He’s their best pitcher, and he took himself right out of the game. Everybody knew what his intentions were.”

Who do you believe? Blue Jays fans say, “Listen to Joe! He speaks the truth!” Tigers fans say, “How can you listen to a man who just got hit in the head with a baseball? He’s babbling, for God’s sake.”

So we turn to the umpire.

And the umpire says . . . And he’s . . . gone!

. . . he’s outta here. Gone. Ejected. And it was the right call, even though it’s likely Gullickson was not aiming at Carter’s head, especially after looking at Carter’s muscled torso, which is enough to make most of us walk him on four pitches. But you have that whole appearance thing: Pitcher gives up two home runs, back-to-back, he’s obviously upset, very next batter he throws in tight and the ball ends up clomping the guy’s cranium? Hey. You have to kick him out — if only to let the rest of the league know you can’t do that. Bad precedent. Brinkman had little choice. It was a no- brainer. Which, come to think of it, is what Carter might have been had the pitch been a fraction lower.

“Joe (Brinkman) was on the spot,” Sparky Anderson admitted afterward, refusing to turn bad aim into controversy. “I expect an umpire to run the game the way he sees fit to run it.”

The only argument the Tigers had was a game last month, in which Roger Clemens basically did the same thing to John Shelby and didn’t get kicked out. But Brinkman’s attitude was, to paraphrase: two wrongs don’t make a right.

End of discussion.

Which doesn’t make Tigers fans feel any better: For one thing, Gullickson is the ace of the staff; you’d like him to last at least as long as the national anthem; secondly, Gullickson’s ejection meant Sparky had to go to the bullpen, something that, given the circumstances right now, he doesn’t like to do in the eighth inning, let alone the first.

To be fair, the bullpen wasn’t half-bad Sunday. In nine innings, it gave up only as many runs as Gullickson did in five minutes. But for Toronto, That was enough. The Jays won, 4-2, taking two of three in this final series between the arch- rivals and allowing guys such as Carter to talk tough in the clubhouse afterward.

“If we weren’t in first place,” he said, scarfing down a plate of post-game rigatoni, “I would have really charged that mound. I would have been fighting somebody, I don’t care how much they fine me or suspend me. If we were in third or fourth place? I would have been out there. I’d be fighting. I wouldn’t quit.”

Yeah. And if only the cops didn’t stop me, I woulda killed that guy . . . Can’t touch this But OK. The Carter incident did show something: It showed the Blue Jays do not like to be touched. I could have told you that after the third inning, when a stripper named Lulu Devine leapt over the wall at Tiger Stadium and began charging the Jays infielders, looking for a kiss. You would have thought she was asking for money. For openers, she went after John Olerud, the first baseman, who ran away from her the way a kid runs from a snake. Lulu then headed toward second base, hoping Roberto Alomar would be a little more affectionate. Alas, one look at Lulu’s chest obviously frightened the living daylights out of Alomar, and, figuring he was about to be crushed, he began to backpedal into centerfield. By the time Lulu got within smooching distance, the cops had grabbed her.

This, as I said, only proves the Jays do not like to be touched, not on the head, not on the lips. And apparently, not in the standings, either. Despite having lost seven of eight coming into Detroit this weekend, they rallied when they had to, and kept the Tigers at least an arm’s length behind in the AL East. Detroit fans were hoping that, come this morning, the Tigers would be in first place. But the fact is, Toronto’s pitching has now bested Detroit’s hitting four out of six times in these past two weeks. Sunday, Tom Henke put the exclamation point on that by striking out the side to end the game.

Ouch.

“No matter what happens now,’ said starter Tom Candiotti, who got the win,
“at least we can say we beat our rivals during the season. If we win this division, we won’t have to look back and say, ‘You know, they were really a better team than us. We just got lucky.’ “

That’s what the Blue Jays say. The Tigers say: Have a nice trip west. Toronto, as fans here know, must play the tough AL West teams in September, while the Tigers focus mostly on the East. That’s good.

Still, you like to do things yourself. The worst part about Sunday was, had the Tigers won they would be one game back this morning; instead, with the loss, they are three back — and this was their last chance to control a two-game swing in the standings. It disappeared, partially, with an ill-timed rising fastball in the first inning. And as they travel to Chicago, the Tigers are left to wonder: If not for a head, would they have a leg up right now?

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