Baseball: Fired-up Leiter fuels Blue Jays' spirit on rollercoaster ride: Richard Weekes in Toronto sees the home team victorious in the opening game of baseball's World Series against the tobacco-chewing, hard-charging Phillies

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The Independent Online
IN A great rollercoaster of a game, the Toronto Blue Jays let the Philadelphia Phillies know they do not have a monopoly on heart in this World Series as they came from behind three times before blowing Game One open with three runs in the seventh for an 8-5 victory.

Everything turned on two pitches in the sixth inning, when the score stood at 4-4.

The first was thrown by Toronto's Al Leiter, who had just come on to relieve the Blue Jays unusually wayward starter, Juan Guzman.

After getting two quick outs, Leiter had loaded the bases, and now up came the Phillies' truck driver of a first baseman, John Kruk.

The count went all the way to three balls and two strikes, and the 52,011 in SkyDome were on their feet, willing Leiter to end the threat.

'It was tense all right,' Leiter said. 'I was trying to play little mind games out there, pretending I was down in Clearwater, playing the Phils in spring training.'

The straggly-bearded Kruk awaited the pay-off pitch, aggressively churning up a great wad of gum in his mouth like a mastiff gnawing on a rubber bone. He finished the night with three hits from four at-bats, but this was the one that got away. Leiter threw a low fastball by him and he fanned at thin air.

Then, in the bottom of the inning, John Olerud, Kruk's Toronto counterpart at first base, came up with one out. Olerud looks, and talks, like a bank official outlining a tricky area of fiscal policy, but he hits a baseball with a swing as sweet as you would expect of the American League batting champion.

Even from Row 8 behind the left-field fence, the pop that Olerud's bat made as it connected with Curt Schilling's first pitch came across as cleanly as the tock of a metronome a few feet away.

Olerud is no slugger: there was no muscle involved, just perfect bat speed and timing, and the ball was gone for a home run, disappearing into a mass of straining arms up in the right-field stands. 'It was the best change-up pitch I ever threw,' a dumbfounded Schilling said.

The expected low-scoring pitching duel between the hard-throwing Guzman and Schilling never had a chance. Guzman needed 36 pitches in the first inning before he subdued a raging Phillies' fire at the cost of two runs.

'I often have trouble in the first inning,' he said, 'but all I knew was, if I can keep the game close, I know this team would come back and score some runs.'

Come back they did. But unlike Toronto, once the Phillies fell behind they stayed behind. In the seventh inning, with the Blue Jays threatening again, Philadelphia's manager Jim Fregosi pulled Schilling and sent in the left-handed reliever, David West, to force the Toronto switch-hitters, Devon White and Roberto Alomar, to bat from their theoretically weaker right side.

White had already become the second Jamaican (after Minnesota's Chili Davis in 1991) to homer in a World Series, uncoiling on a sub-standard Schilling slider to hit a towering 390-foot solo blast into the second deck in the fifth inning, and now he and Alomar greeted West with consecutive doubles to give the Blue Jays a four-run cushion. 'It didn't work,' Fregosi said of his tattered pitching strategy.

Alomar also came up with the defensive play of the game in the fifth, when Lenny Dykstra hit a little looper over Olerud's head at first, and the Puerto Rican second baseman appeared from nowhere to make a magical headlong diving catch three inches off the ground.