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Morris, Stewart: brothers in arms

They are remarkably alike, both fire breathers, both big-game pitchers. These are the games Jack Morris and Dave Stewart live for.

They will oppose each other tonight in the opening game of the American League Championship Series: Morris, the hired gun the Toronto Blue Jays brought in to get them those final two steps _ pennant and World Series title _ against Stewart, unbeaten in the playoffs with the Athletics.

"They're very similar, more similar than they are different," said Dave Winfield, Toronto's designated hitter who, like Morris, was brought in to get the Blue Jays over the top. "They're both aggressive pitchers, both confident, both experienced. They're bulldogs."

"He's a battler. He doesn't quit," Morris said of Stewart. "In some ways, he's a lot like me. We don't necessarily have our best stuff all the time, but we somehow pitch the best we can."

Stewart, less voluble than his counterpart, considers it "an honor to be thought of as a money pitcher, someone to go to in a big game. What makes these games so special is that, to use that expression, "there's no tomorrow.' "

"During the regular season, you'll get 30, 35 starts. You can get away with a few mistakes," he said. "In the post-season, you can't."

The teams, like their starting pitchers, are remarkably similar. Each won 96 games in 1992, and they split their 12 games evenly. Toronto's .263 batting average was five points higher than Oakland's. The Athletics' 143 stolen bases were only 14 more than the Blue Jays'. Toronto's 163 home runs were 21 higher than Oakland's.

But in one respect, they are vastly different.

Except for a couple of recent glitches (the four-game sweep by Cincinnati in 1990, the upset five-game loss to the Dodgers two years earlier), Oakland has had a history of World Series success. There was the sweep of the Giants in 1989 and the 1972-74 triumphs.

What's on the line for the Blue Jays is a history of, well, not exactly failure, but a lack of success.

In 1985, 1989 and again last year, they won the AL East. But each year, someone else (Kansas City, Oakland and Minnesota, in that order) knocked them off. In each case, Toronto lost to the eventual world champion.

"I can't dwell on those games, even if everyone else does," said Blue Jays manager Cito Caston. "They happened, but they have nothing to do with what we have achieved this year and nothing to do with what we're here for. I expect us to win, but if we don't, well, six other teams (in the AL East) didn't get this far. I can't call three division championships in four years a failure."

Still, the nickname "Blow Jays" haunts them, which is why they spent the big bucks to sign Morris, the hero of the Twins' world championship a year ago with two victories over Toronto in the playoffs and two more (including the 10-inning shutout against Atlanta) and the Most Valuable Player award in the World Series.

"I've been asked that a lot the past two weeks, "Is this what the Jays paid you for?' " Morris said. "I guess I should have just showed up yesterday. I would have made a lot more money in a lot less time.

"All I can do is my best. Come (tonight), I know how to block out the distractions that go on. My world will be the 60 feet, 6 inches away from the glove I'm trying to throw to. I've been here before. I know what to expect. I look forward to it."

The remarkable thing about the Athletics is that they're back in the playoffs a year after they were supposed to be _ and in a year when a lot of people wrote them off.

Stewart, Rickey Henderson, Walt Weiss, Dave Henderson, Willie Wilson and Jose Canseco (before he was traded to Texas) all missed playing time _ as did Jeff Russell and Ruben Sierra, both acquired in the Canseco deal. Yet they won the West and did it without super seasons from their superstars.

"We've had superstar performances in the past and the club hasn't even finished in the first division," Oakland manager Tony La Russa said. "You need to have guys who have not only good statistical years but good winning years, and that's what we've had. Look at Terry Steinbach and Carney Lansford. Look at Mike Bordick, who ranked near the top of a lot of categories."

Stewart, who struggled through his second straight so-so year after four consecutive 20-win seasons, agreed.

"In past seasons, we always had dependable guys to look to _ (Bob) Welch, Rickey (Henderson), Eck (Dennis Eckersley). You could always look to those guys to win games," Stewart said. "This year we didn't have that because of all the injuries. We've counted on a lot of people stepping up. We've made the call to the minor leagues, and they've done a great job."

ALCS Game 1



TV/Radio: 8:30 p.m., Ch. 13; 910 AM.

Starting pitchers: Athletics' Dave Stewart (12-10, 3.66 ERA) vs. Blue Jays' Jack Morris (21-6, 4.04 ERA).

More on the playoffs, 5C-6C.

AL team statistics, 6C.