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HRs power A's to win

Jack Morris just keeps killing the Blue Jays in the American League playoffs.

He was the guy who beat Toronto twice for Minnesota in last year's playoffs (and then won a Most Valuable Player award with two more World Series wins).

He was the hired gun Toronto signed last December to hurdle the post-season mental block that has paralyzed manager Cito Gaston and his team twice in the past three years.

If you can't beat 'im, join 'im, eh?

But with three pitches that didn't quite cut it, Oakland's Mark McGwire, Terry Steinbach and Harold Baines stuck knives in the hearts of Toronto's fatalistic fans, hitting home runs off Morris for a 4-3 victory in Wednesday night's playoff opener.

"I just made a bad pitch _ three of them, as a matter of fact, and they didn't miss one of them," Morris said, his right arm wrapped in ice in the Blue Jays' locker room.

"I figured it would be a close game. I didn't figure they'd get that many runs, but then again I didn't figure there'd be three home runs, either. . . . I'm not disappointed. I'm happier 'n' hell that I had the opportunity to be here. There's lot of guys at home wish they could be where I am right now. And I'll have another shot at 'em.

"I feel I did the best I could. I made a couple of mistakes; that's human. I'm not going to hang my head over nothing. We fought them hard, they fought us hard, they won."

Baines' blast was the crusher, a 384-foot leadoff shot down the rightfield line on Morris' second pitch of the ninth inning.

"I was just trying to get on base," Baines said. "That was the most important thing. I knew if I got to first, someone was going to pinch-run for me. So I was going to make the ball be in my zone and let me pick my spot. And he put it in my zone."

The homer broke the tie that Toronto had forged in the bottom of the eighth when Dave Winfield chased Oakland starter Dave Stewart with a double and John Olerud brought Winfield home with a single up the middle off Jeff Russell.

"I'm able to think along with Tony (La Russa, the Oakland manager) and after Dave's hit I was anticipating him telling me to walk Olerud and pitch to (Candy) Maldonado," Stewart said. "He didn't do that, so I just went along with the program."

"The only thing I didnt like about (the game) is that the guy that did the most to help us win it was Stewart," La Russa said, "and he didnt get the win."

Once the Athletics regained the lead, the outcome was hardly in doubt. Out of the bullpen came Dennis Eckersley, baseball's premier reliever. And down went the Blue Jays.

Stewart, who came within four batters of notching a third playoff win against the Blue Jays (he beat them twice in 1989), also gave up a pair of home runs, to Pat Borders in the fifth inning and Winfield in the sixth.

But both came with the bases empty while McGwire's followed Baines' single, giving the Athletics their first two runs on just one swing.

"Solo home runs don't bother me," Stewart said. "It's home runs when you've got guys on base that pretty much get under my skin. Solo shots just put one run on the board. It's not okay, but it's okay."

Whatever it was that Morris threw for the Jays was as devastating as anything he threw at them a year ago.

After serving up three consecutive grounders in the first inning, Morris gave up Baines' single to centerfield to start the second. And on the second pitch to McGwire, a knee-high forkball, the lone remaining Bash Brother mashed a monster drive to left. The ball landed 417 feet from home plate.

Next up, Steinbach. Morris got two quick strikes, but the third pitch, another forkball, hung high and the Oakland catcher sent it 374 feet down the leftfield line.

As Steinbach circled the bases, Morris stared toward home plate and a strange, almost mischievous smile spread across his face, as though he had just pulled a fast one (which, of course, Steinbach just had, so to speak).

The SkyDome crowd was clearly restive. Double-play grounders by Roberto Alomar in the first inning and Kelly Gruber in the second had ended mild threats. And in the third, after Devon White walked with two away and took third on a single by Alomar (who then stole second), Joe Carter flied out.

Finally, Borders broke through against Stewart in the fifth with a home run to left that woke up the moribund crowd. And when Winfield brought the Blue Jays within a run with his 411-foot blast in the sixth, the SkyDome crowd was in a frenzy, one that grew exponentially as the Blue Jays tied it in the eighth. But as quickly as they had gotten back into the game, Baines took them out of it _ Eckersley kept them there.

"It's in the past," Morris said. "We lost the first game. Tomorrow the sun comes up, we go out there, a fresh bullpen, a good starter and we've got a good chance to win it."

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