Baseball World Series: Blue Jays bank on power at the plate: Toronto and Atlanta are at first base tonight. Richard Weekes reports

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The Independent Online
THE FAT lady reserved her aria for one Francisco Paulino Cabrera on Wednesday night and Jim Leyland, the Pittsburgh Pirates manager, was left to spend the winter mulling over baseball's old saw that it ain't over until the last out of the ninth inning of the seventh game of the play-offs.

Cabrera, a 26-year-old reserve catcher from the Dominican Republic, had spent most of the season travelling the back roads of the South in the Richmond Braves team bus. But he was called up to the Atlanta Braves' post-season roster when the club's No 1 catcher, Greg Olson, broke his leg, and now his manager, Bobby Cox, was sending him to the plate with the National League pennant and a place in the World Series on the line.

The bases were loaded, but Pittsburgh's relief pitcher Stan Belinda needed just one more out to protect a 2-1 lead and take the Pirates into a World Series at the third time of asking.

'I wasn't nervous, not at all,' Cabrera said later. 'I was just looking for something close to drive.' Two balls and one strike later, he secured his place in baseball history, lining a shot into left field that brought Dave Justice trotting in from third for the tying run and the lumbering Bream sliding home for the winner, beating Pittsburgh catcher Mike Lavalliere's tag by six inches.

As the Fulton County Stadium crowd whooped in disbelief, the former President Jimmy Carter hurdled the rail in the box seats, dodged the mounted police and went to pay his respects to Cabrera, by now forming the base of the obligatory player pyramid.

'I've never been part of something that went from down there to up here so quick,' the Braves' Ron Gant said. 'I was hyperventilating. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I never dreamed of anything like this.'

With one inspired substitution, Cox had freed himself from the tag of managing the first National League team to blow a 3-1 lead in the play-offs. He knows the feeling: the Toronto Blue Jays did it under his management in the American League play-offs in 1985. Now he will meet their descendants in the first game of the World Series in Atlanta tonight.

He will find that these are a very different flock of Blue Jays. Dennis Eckersley, the Oakland reliever who took an unaccustomed hammering from Toronto's bats in the AL play-offs, said: 'The Blue Jays are the team of destiny.'

Bizarrely, the Series will begin the way it ended last October, with Jack Morris pitching against the Braves. The 37-year-old starter, who joined Toronto from Minnesota last year, could do with another 10-inning 1-0 victory: he pitched in both Toronto's losses in their 4-2 AL championship series win over Oakland.

Morris's poor play-off showing may cause Toronto's Cito Gaston, the first black manager in World Series history, to reconsider his three-man rotation, which requires each pitcher to play again after only three days' rest. This may be no problem for the 25- year-old Juan Guzman, but puts additional strain on the older arms of Morris and David Cone, 29, who gave up six runs in four innings in his second start.

'It's something management is going to have to look at,' Toronto's Jimmy Key said. If Gaston wants a fourth pitcher, the left-handed Key will probably get the call. He would be expected to neutralise the threat of the Braves' left-handed hitters like Justice and Bream.

If Gaston is worried about Morris, Cox cannot have total confidence in Tom Glavine, who starts for Atlanta tonight. Glavine, despite his 21 wins this season, was hit for eight runs in one inning in game six of the play-offs, and neither he nor Steve Avery appear as intimidating as they did a year ago. John Smoltz, however, won both his play-off starts.

Toronto appear to have a definite edge in power at the plate, with Joe Carter, Roberto Alomar - who went 11 for 26 to win the play-off MVP award - and the 41-year-old Dave Winfield capable of adding to the Blue Jays' 11 homers against Oakland. Atlanta's only obvious advantage lies with their third baseman, Terry Pendleton, whose double sparked their historic ninth-inning comeback against Pittsburgh.

The most eagerly anticipated game will come on Tuesday, when the World Series moves to Canada for the first time. The players will still be mostly American, but some things will be very different. The red maple leaf, not the Stars and Stripes, will flutter on high and the Mounties, rather than Atlanta's finest, will be keeping order in the SkyDome. As one New York columnist advised those considering heading north, 'Pack a parka and don't forget your passport.'

(Photograph omitted)

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