Elliott on baseball column

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

Major League Baseball has never been accused of understanding the word parity.

Yet, heading into last night's action there are four races with teams breathing down the necks of others.

How close are they?

Well, players on one team can tell what the post-game, clubhouse spread was -- right down to the salad dressing -- of the team chasing them.

Each year, the commissioner's office stages in-case-of-a-tie coin flips. Could we have two playoff games next Monday? Maybe.

Teams gather for spring training in mid-February, spend six weeks getting ready, play 162 games and, for some teams, it could come down to a final game, a final inning or even the final swing in the final at-bat.

Or the 163rd game.

* The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox have both been bad enough that neither should have made the post-season. The Yanks will finish the season with three games at Fenway Park to decide the American League East title. In the case of a tie, they'll play Monday at Yankee Stadium in a one-game playoff.

* The Chicago White Sox are trying to avoid going into the books as authors of one of baseball's biggest collapses and head into Cleveland next weekend to decide their fate against the Indians.

* The also-rans of the White Sox-Indians and the Yankees-Red Sox races are contending for the AL wild-card berth.

* And the Philadelphia Phillies are chasing the Houston Astros for the National League wild-card spot.

Baseball's best month is about to enter baseball's best week.

It could be that only one of the AL East high-rollers makes the post-season, for the first time in three seasons.

If Boston fails to make it, will it be the first of another 85-year drought? Just kidding, Sox fans.

The other Sox, the ones who had the 15-game lead on Aug. 1, with 58 games remaining, are trying to survive and avoid being placed somewhere on this list:

1. 1964 Philadelphia

Manager Gene Mauch's Phillies led by 61/2 games with 15 games remaining, but the St. Louis Cardinals won the NL pennant on the final day of the season.

2. 1978 Boston

Don Zimmer's Red Sox were up 71/2 games with 32 to play. Luis Tiant shut out the Blue Jays 5-0 on the final day of the season, while the Yankees lost to Cleveland to force a playoff in the AL East race. Bucky Dent's homer to left beat Boston in the one-game playoff.

3. 1951 Dodgers

Charlie Dressen's Brooklyn Dodgers led by 41/2 with 10 games left, only to finish in a tie with the New York Giants for the NL pennant. The Giants won a best-of-three playoff on Bobby Thomson's now legendary homer off Ralph Branca.

4. 1987 Blue Jays

Jimy Williams' Jays were three outs away from being 41/2 up with six games to play. But Kirk Gibson of the Tigers led off the ninth with a solo homer, then blooped a game-winning single in the 13th for a 3-2 victory, cutting the deficit to 21/2. Toronto dropped three to Milwaukee -- two by two-run decisions -- then lost three consecutive, one-run decisions in Detroit. The Jays allowed three unearned runs in the series.

5. 1995 Angels

Marcel Lachemann's Anaheim club led by 121/2 with 42 to play. The AL West wound up in a tie and the Angels lost a one-game playoff to the Seattle Mariners.

6. 1969 Cubs

Manager Leo Durocher had a 10-game lead with 45 left and was eliminated by the New York Mets with five games remaining.

Ozzie Guillen's White Sox could take over top spot on the aforementioned if they fail to advance. After all, they have been in first place all 174 days of this season.

QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS

How are seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds alike? A lot has been written, said and insinuated about both, but neither has produced a positive test ... Aren't infielders supposed to wear sunglasses on a bright sunny days? ... Do telecasts really have to show the pitch sequence on four-pitch walks?

WINTER SHOPPING

When the Jays put in a claim for Aubrey Huff, Tampa Bay Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMarr took his struggling slugger off waivers.

Trade talks will continue this off-season as the Jays are seeking two bats. Initially, the Rays wanted a player who is major-league ready, a minor-leaguer and a throw-in minor-leaguer, who hopefully can play down the road.

While Tampa Bay likes Jays second baseman Orlando Hudson, the three-player combo Tampa Bay likely will ask for are:

Either righty Dustin McGowan or reliever Brandon League, who might be considered soon-to-be major-league ready. Both got their feet soaked this season.

McGowan, a former No. 1 pick, has pitched in 11 games for the Jays this season, seven of them starts, walking 17 and striking out 29 in 42 innings with a 6.86 ERA. League is in the same area code with a 6.34 ERA. He has pitched in 18 games, walking 17 and striking out 16 in 28 innings.

Former No. 1 pick, lefty David Purcey is a minor-leaguer of promise, after going 4-3 with a 2.93 ERA at double-A New Hampshire and 5-4 with a 3.72 ERA at single-A Dunedin.

And there is also Guillermo Quiroz, whose catching skills have not progressed after twice suffering a collapsed lung allowed him to play only 112 games in the minors.

All three are a lot to give up, but that's the Tampa wish list. I wish Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard would sing at my next birthday party, but that won't happen.

The Jays need hitting and will make a counter-offer, whether it is with LaMarr or a new GM in the ever-changing Tampa Bay scene.

Huff took a .261 average into yesterday's play with 26 doubles, two triples, 20 homers and 88 RBIs in 146 games. He earned just less than $5 million US this season.

ON THE SANDLOTS

Outfielder Jonathan Waltenbury of Bowmanville hit for the cycle as the Ontario Blue Jays beat the Duquesne Dukes 8-5 in Pittsburgh. He was 5-for-5 with four RBIs. Former Jays catcher Justin Worby, of Acton, is the only other Jays player to hit for the cycle ... Waterloo's Mike Roeder was named as the Kaskaskia College Blue Devils rookie of the year. Roeder, a Team Ontario grad, earned all-Conference honours, hitting .429 and scoring 47 runs, while knocking in 32, and stealing 14 bases.


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