The Toronto Blue Jays passed their New York City test of character tonight. If they fail to win the American League East, it won't be because New York City and the aura of Yankee Stadium got them.
For the second straight night, the Blue Jays beat the Yankees before a raucous capacity crowd of 54,367, this time scoring five runs in a strategy-filled sixth inning on the way to a 7-4 victory.
The Yankees failed their test of pennant character tonight. At least, that's what owner George Steinbrenner thought.
Steinbrenner walked into the press box at game's end and lambasted his manager and a half-dozen of his top-salaried players.
"What the hell is Billy doing bringing Righetti in during the sixth inning, that's what my front office people want to know," he said, referring to Martin's decision to bring Dave Righetti into a 2-2 game with a runner on first and one out in the sixth. "They think he mismanaged. Righetti's a closer, not a middle-inning guy. When you use a player out of his role, he's ineffective."
Righetti faced four batters, walked one, then allowed three straight hits as five runs scored.
"Ask Billy about that," added Steinbrenner. "You didn't get it from me.
"When you go head-to-head with the enemy, you gotta put 'em down good," he said. "We didn't. My big money players aren't playin' like money players. Winfield, Griffey, Baylor -- those guys have to play like Mr. Octobers. Mattingly's doing the job. Against the tough pitchers in these big games, the rest aren't. Baylor says he's not playing enough. Baloney. He's got 400 at bats and (Tom) Henke blew him away (on Thursday). The big guys just aren't producing.
"That play Griffey made yesterday (a run-producing outfield blunder in a 3-2 loss) was something a Little Leaguer could do better. And they say they don't need (off-day) practice.
"Our (second-line) starting pitchers, Whitson, Cowley and Bystrom, have not been good this year. They haven't done what you need to win it.
"We're not out of it yet, but the Blue Jays have already got what they want out of this series."
The Yankees have won 12 of their last 15 games, 29 of 38, are 80-45 under Martin and still have the second-best record in baseball. Standards are high in the Bronx.
Of his Righetti call, Martin said, "Somebody said it was stupid. I thought it was a brilliant move. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it would work . . . He's human . . . I was going to leave him in for four batters (three of them left-handed), then go to Brian Fisher for two innings . . .
"Tomorrow is an important game for us. We have to win it," said Martin. "If we're 2 1/2 games behind, we're in good shape, we're in great shape."
While Billy and George, their soap opera quiet most of the year, might have stolen headlines with their spatting, the Blue Jays might have stolen a season.
Toronto got a tie-breaking RBI double from Rance Mulliniks, a pair of two-run singles from Lloyd Moseby and Cliff Johnson, plus an important double and home run by Jesse Barfield.
Toronto came here hoping for a split of the four-game series. After all, the Yankees were 50-16 here this year before the Blue Jays arrived. Now, after a snazzy six-hit win by left-hander Jimmy Key (13-6), they've got their two victories and almost could bury Yankee hopes if Doyle Alexander can beat Ed Whitson Sunday afternoon.
With three weeks left to play, the Blue Jays have the vastly easier schedule. They play Detroit three times, Baltimore not at all. The Yankees must play the two previous world champions a total of 13 times while also facing the prospect of a three-game season-ending series in Toronto. If the Yankees aren't careful, that series could be moot. Sunday is crucial. As Martin knows, 2 1/2 games back means hope; 4 1/2 means prayer.
New York had one final late gasp as a Rex Hudler triple, an RBI ground out and a Rickey Henderson home run cut the Toronto lead to three runs in the eighth inning. It wasn't nearly enough.
The crisis this night came in the middle innings. As preamble, the Yankees got a run in the first on a Henderson walk, two steals and a meek Dave Winfield ground out. Doubles by Barfield and Garth Iorg off Bob Shirley tied it, 1-1. A Billy Sample double and RBI infield hit by Hudler, starting for injured Willie Randolph, made it 2-1, Yankees. But a Barfield homer in the fourth tied the score and set the stage.
With one out, Moseby and Johnson hit a couple of seeing-eye singles. Most managers would have copped out and let Shirley, who'd only allowed two runs, pitch to the lethal George Bell and Barfield. And one of them would have hit the cover off the ball, bet on it.
Martin jerked Shirley instantly. He was ahead of the game, controlling it.
On came Rich Bordi, whose purpose on this earth is to throw curves to Bell and Barfield. Pop up, smash to third, inning over. The crowd yawned. Oh, had something happened?
The next inning, Martin did it again. With one out and one on Martin waved for Rhigetti so Bordi would not have to face left-handers Ernie Whitt and Mulliniks.
Righetti looked cold, started with six balls in a row. When he finally reached a full count on Mulliniks, he had to groove a fastball so he wouldn't load the bases.
Perhaps a great left fielder could have caught Mulliniks' one-hop blast off the left-center field fence. Sample, running under and past the slicing drive, couldn't get close. One run scored, the tie was broken, runners were at second and third and the Yankee infield had to come in.
"Can anyone tell me why my left fielder was one place and the ball was 20 feet behind him," asked Martin, sarcastically. "I've never seen that before."
Yankees are supposed to have poise in tight games, but these Yankees have been more a bully-boy outfit, outscoring foes by 175 runs, but playing miserable 33-35 ball in one and two-run games. Again, they came unhinged.
Mattingly stopped Tony Fernandez's grounder with a diving grab, got to his feet, held Whitt at third, then turned to toss routinely to Righetti covering first base.
Righetti hadn't moved from the mound. Fast asleep. Batter safe. Bases loaded.
Moseby's grounder up the middle for a two-run single kicked up dirt on the mound, kicked up dirt behind second and kicked dirt in Martin's eyes.
Fernandez moved to third on Henderson's throw, Moseby taking second.
Johnson stepped up against reliever Fisher and hit a grounder up the middle that was even less impressive than Moseby's. But, with the infield in, it snuck through, too, for two more runs and a 7-2 lead. The crowd booed Martin as he left the mound.