Baseball: Toronto pitchers' moment of truth

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The Independent Online
IT IS not only long hair, big bellies, smoking, swearing, spitting and tobacco juice that separate the Philadelphia Phillies from the Toronto Blue Jays in this World Series - they also play by different rules.

As Darren Daulton, the Phillies catcher, put it as his side prepared to fly home from Toronto on Sunday night with the Series tied at 1-1: 'We're going back to the Vet and we're going to play National League ball. That's got to be a plus.'

In the National League, the pitcher takes his turn at bat, while in the American League the designated hitter comes off the bench to take the pitcher's spot in the batting line-up.

Some argue that the discrepancy is an abomination, since it obliges the visiting team to change the way they have played all season just when it really matters - in the World Series. But everybody is agreed that it hurts the AL team the most, for it is much easier to bring an extra man off the bench to bat than it is to send a pitcher out to face an unfamiliar dose of his own medicine.

Toronto's pitchers in games three, four and five in Philadelphia are now facing their moment of truth. They are none too happy about it, and with good reason - only three AL pitchers have managed a base hit in all World Series games since 1976. One of them was David Cone for Toronto last year, but he had come straight from the New York Mets, an NL team.

For Pat Hentgen, who pitched Game Three last night, the fear was of embarrassing himself in front of millions. 'It is a little scary,' he said. 'I haven't seen live pitching since 1986. If he gets two strikes on me - which he probably will - I'll expect a big curveball, and I'll probably need a tennis racket to hit it.'

It comes as a surprise to learn from Larry Hisle, Toronto's batting coach, that he did no preparatory work with the pitchers before this week. Was this not short-sighted? 'It's a high-risk situation,' Hisle said. 'There's always the danger of injury. Basically what we want to do is get them in and out of there as safely as possible. And anyway, if we're looking to our pitchers to get a hit to win the ballgame, we're in trouble.'

But the biggest worry for the Blue Jays manager, Cito Gaston, is not whether his pitchers look foolish at the plate but the loss of the DH from the batting line-up. Paul Molitor has played the role with distinction all year, but to put him in the line-up means finding him a fielding position he is comfortable, albeit unfamiliar with.

In an ideal world, Molitor would play third base instead of Ed Sprague, who is batting a pathetic .125 in the Series. But Molitor has done badly in his few games at third, so Gaston is weighing up the possibility of assigning him to the easier first-base job and putting John Olerud, the AL batting champion, on the bench.

The pressure on Gaston will not end once he has settled on a starting line-up for the games here. National League managers pride themselves on their tactical skill in knowing when to send in a pinch-hitter to bat for the pitcher, who would then be replaced on the mound in the next inning. This is an area in which the Toronto manager is short on experience.

If Gaston gets his strategy wrong, there are plenty of people here who will not shrink from telling him.