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When stalwart Toronto Blue Jay righthander Dave Stieb took a four-hit shutout into the seventh inning of Game 7 of the Ultimate Series, an upset of massive proportions seemed tantalizingly within reach for the upstart All-Star Jays.

Flashy teammate Juan Guzman had turned in a workmanlike complete game victory in Game 6, shutting down the mighty Yankee (1977-2002) All-Stars 7-3 and setting the stage for Stieb to erase the demons of the near-no-hitters ... the near-perfect-games ... the near-Cy-Young-Awards ... the nearly-always-agonizing close-but-no-cigar not-quite-milestones of a career that led Stieb to entitle his autobiography Tomorrow I'll Be Perfect.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

After the Yankees closed out a long-delayed Game 5 in Toronto to inch within a single victory of ending the Series, the teams returned to the Bronx for what the pinstriped hosts presumed would be the prelude to still another ticker-tape parade through The Canyon of Heroes.

But the Blue Jays, expected to start Stieb in the pivotal Game 6, instead turned to Guzman who made his debut in the series in the first of what would turn out to be two elimination games. He wasn't brilliant, but used 111 pitches to scatter seven hits and two walks over nine solid innings and limited the Yankees to three runs, including one essentially meaningless tally in each the eighth and the ninth innings.

The Jays got to Yankee starter Mike Mussina for five earned runs in just four and two-thirds innings; four of those runs came in the critical six-run fifth inning. The key blows in that frame came in the form of a three-run homer from George Bell that chased Mussina, and a two-run shot by Lloyd Moseby off reliever Dave Righetti.

After surrendering a single to Shawn Green and the Moseby blast, Righetti settled down to shut out the Jays on two hits the rest of the way, but the damage had been done. Moseby finished the contest with three hits while Roberto Alomar and Ernie Whitt had two knocks, a run scored and an RBI apiece as the Jays mashed out 11 base hits even though series star Carlos Delgado was held to two intentional passes in five plate appearances.

New York's futile attempt at a late-inning comeback was limited to a run-scoring double from first baseman Don Mattingly in the eighth and a solo home run by catcher Thurman Munson in the ninth. Guzman struck out nine and settled the issue almost single-handedly there would be a Game 7.

And what a Game 7 it was.

Images of Jack Morris pitching into the 10th inning, of Joe Carter homering in the left-field stands -- OK, that was a Game 6 -- danced in the heads of Blue Jay fans while the Yankees recalled the ghosts of Babe Ruth being thrown out trying to steal to end a Game 7, or of Luis Gonzalez hitting a flare achingly out of Derek Jeter's reach, or of Bill Mazeroski leaping into the arms of his Pirate teammates in 1960 ... seventh games have not been kind to the winningest franchise in the history of the sport.

Dave Stieb must have known something wasn't quite right as he watched his opponent, soft-tossing hey-they-named-a-surgery-for-me Tommy John strike out the side in the top of the first. The aging lefty would record only one more punchout the rest of the game, but to start it off, sandwiched around a Delgado single, Alomar, Tony Fernandez and Bell all took called third strikes on John sinkers.

Stieb came out in the bottom of the inning and watched Rickey Henderson rifle his first pitch past Kelly Gruber for a single, then after a strikeout of Derek Jeter, the leading basestealer in the game's history waltzed into second without even drawing a throw from Pat Borders. Henderson, another former Jay, took third on a deep fly to right by Mattingly, but Reggie Jackson popped to Moseby to end the threat.

Both pitchers settled down until the fourth when Delgado doubled and went to third on a bloop single by Bell. Brian Butterfield's decision not to test Henderson's arm and send Delgado drew boos from the partisan SkyDome crowd, but it proved moot when Moseby one-hopped a ground-rule double over the centerfield wall. With runners on second and third and just one out, Kelly Gruber ripped a screaming line drive to the right side of the infield that looked sure to score two runs, but young Alfonso Soriano managed to snare the shot, and John retired Borders to wriggle out of the threat.

But the way Stieb was pitching, it looked like that one run might hold up.

While the Blue Jays continued to bang out hits and leave baserunners, Stieb mowed through the Hall-of-Fame-laden Yankee lineup until Soriano led off the seventh with a bloop double just out of Gruber's reach. Stieb, rattled by Gruber's inability to catch the pop, managed to retire Graig Nettles but then served up a run-scoring triple to Bernie Williams, pinch-hitting for John.

Continuing to glare at Gruber, Stieb walked Henderson on four pitches, then induced Jeter to pop out -- of course -- to Gruber. The Toronto third-sacker juggled the foul pop before recording the out and glared back at Stieb as he fired the ball around the infield. With two outs and runners on the corners, the still-rattled Stieb uncorked a wild pitch that Borders had no chance of hailing down as Williams trotted in with the go-ahead run.

And with that lead, the Yankees turned the game -- and ultimately, the Ultimate Series -- over to closer Rich "Goose Gossage." After seven innings of left-handed slop that wouldn't dent a pane of glass, the Jays faced the burly right-hander who can toss his fastball through a carwash without getting it wet.

Six batters. Twenty-two pitches. Six outs. Three strikeouts. Game, set ... Series.

Alomar and Moseby each had two hits for the second consecutive game, and Delgado wrapped up the Ultimate Series MVP with three more hits to finish at .556 with 10 RBI; even in the losing effort, Delgado was clearly the best player on the field. Stieb suffered two of the four Jay losses despite -- and here's a refrain that should be familiar to Toronto fans -- pitching well enough to win.

The Blue Jays actually outscored the Yankees in this seven-game tilt, but in the end this fine team from north of the border suffered the indignity of listening, one more time ...

... to a Bronx cheer.
Ultimately ... Series Ends With Flourish | 3 comments | Create New Account
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_Spicol - Monday, July 07 2003 @ 01:39 PM EDT (#33403) #
My team played hard and I'm proud of what they gave me out there. The issue that I have with these simulated games is that the simulated umpires are horrible and need simulated glasses. I blame them, of course. Consider this series officially under protest!

Thanks for doing this Mick...it was entertaining.
_DS - Monday, July 07 2003 @ 02:09 PM EDT (#33404) #
I want a rematch with Wells in CF!
_Modmajgen - Monday, July 07 2003 @ 09:25 PM EDT (#33405) #
Just stopped in to say hey to my favorite Canadian numbers cruncher.
Jerry
Ultimately ... Series Ends With Flourish | 3 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.