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Fireworks no fun for Carter

A freak accident from a fireworks show sent Joe Carter, Toronto's leading home run hitter, to the hospital with an eye injury on the eve of Wednesday night's playoff opener against Oakland.

Carter caught a stinging cinder in his left eye from the fireworks before a Toronto Maple Leafs game Tuesday night as he watched at rinkside with teammate Roberto Alomar. It took a doctor more than two hours to remove the debris.

"It didn't scare me," said Carter, wearing pale yellow sunglasses to shade his eyes from the lights inside SkyDome. "I knew I could still hit with one eye closed. Sometimes I hit with both eyes closed."

Though he downplayed the incident, believing the whole time he was in the hospital that his eye would be all right once the doctor got the cinder out, Carter's brush with danger could have meant real trouble for a team trying to shake its playoff woes.

Carter's 34 homers and strong play in rightfield were big factors in Toronto's success this season, and the Blue Jays could hardly afford to have him missing.

"Something always went wrong in the past, but that doesn't mean anything now," he said. "We're not worried about what happened in the past. But I learned a lesson last night. I learned not to look up at fireworks."

His only regret was missing the hockey game.

"I'm a big hockey fan," Carter said. "I've got a Wayne Gretzky stick, signed by him."

Asked how he got it, Carter replied with a wink, "Connections."

Gretzky doesn't yet have a Carter bat, which could be a valuable souvenir if Carter sets off some fireworks of his own with playoff homers.

"I'd be happy to give him one," Carter said, "if he wants it."

Moore unimpressed by his success

David Cone's counterpart tonight, Mike Moore, is 5-1 against Toronto in SkyDome. He brushed that aside Wednesday night. "You can't feel comfortable against anyone on this Blue Jay club," he said. "You have to concentrate on every hitter."

Familiar scene for Athletics

This is Oakland's 10th appearance in the playoffs, the most of any team. Baltimore, Cincinnati and Los Angeles have each been to seven League Championship Series (LCS). It is Toronto's fourth appearance and third in the past four seasons. Oakland manager Tony La Russa is 3-1 in the LCS, winning with Oakland in 1988-90 after losing to Baltimore as the manager of the White Sox in 1983. Cito Gaston of the Blue Jays has yet to win in the playoffs, having lost to the A's (1989) and Twins (1991).

Baseball's Leafs turned blue

The Toronto Maple Leafs were a baseball team before they were a hockey team. The Maple Leafs were an International League team founded in 1885. They moved to Louisville after the 1967 season, leaving Toronto without baseball until the Blue Jays were born in 1976.

Sparky Anderson played and managed the Maple Leafs, Dick Williams managed them, Elston Howard and Reggie Smith played for them and Sparky Lyle pitched for them.

And Babe Ruth hit his only minor-league home run in Toronto, at a ballpark called Hanlon's Point, when he was a 17-year-old pitcher for Providence, a Red Sox farm team.

Oh, yes _ before the NHL team became the Maple Leafs in 1927, it was known as the St. Patricks and, before that, the Arenas.

"Hired gun' takes aim at A's

Toronto's starting pitcher tonight, David Cone, will be a free agent when the post-season ends. He came to the Jays in a late-August trade with the Mets and is only beginning to feel a part of the Blue Jays. "The ideal situation is to be with a contending team the entire year, to feel like you contributed to winning the pennant," he said. "Obviously I'm the hired gun. Although I did pitch some big games, it's not the same as when I was with the Mets in '88.

"If I was still with the Mets, I'd probably be sitting in my apartment in Manhattan right now, watching these games and planning a long, slow vacation to the Caribbean."

_ BRUCE LOWITT, AP

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