First, as a service to all you interested Yankee fans, a quick primer on the baseball lexicon of the new manager, Stump Merrill:
The fastball is called "red" -- as in "You don't want to fall behind this guy and have to throw him red." The home run, in Stumpese, is referred to as "the big fly." Got it? Then let's move on.
Toronto saw a lot of red Sunday afternoon in the SkyDome. And with George Bell hitting two more big flies, the Blue Jays ripped the Yankees, 8-3, to salvage a split of this four-game series and preserve their half-game lead over the Red Sox heading into Fenway Park for a four-game series beginning tonight.
After winning the first two games here, the Yankees were hopeful of taking at least three of four to conclude a positive road trip. But their pitchers, who were roughed up for 27 runs over the four days, were sadly unequal to the task.
Sunday's victim was left-hander Chuck Cary. Much like Tim Leary the day before, Cary was hit early, often and hard. He left without retiring a man in the third inning, having given up both of Bell's homers (his 16th and 17th) and three other resounding extra-base blows.
"You have to keep the ball down," Merrill said. "It's a simple matter. Everything he (Cary) threw was above the belt. He was behind in the count. This is not the kind of club you can work behind the count against, because they're sitting on red. And when they get that red, well, you saw what they did with it."
The Blue Jays did what they've done with the red all season long -- they whacked it all over the yard. They had seven extra-base hits Sunday, and 23 for the series. It was no surprise, either, as Toronto is far ahead of the rest of the American League in home runs and slugging percentage.
Bell had three hits, including his fourth and fifth big flies of the series, and four RBIs. Pat Borders, as good a slugging catcher as you'll find these days, had a single, double and triple. Kelly Gruber had a double and triple. Manny Lee had a double, two singles and two RBIs.
"There's times when I want to pitch up in the strike zone," said Cary (4-3), who saw his ERA swell to 5.15. "But it helps to throw some strikes."
Toronto lefty John Cerutti (4-5) didn't exactly sparkle either. Cerutti, behind on the count all day, threw 105 pitches in his tedious, five-inning stint -- just long enough to record the win.
"It was a closer game than the final score," Merrill said. "Cerutti was fortunate. He got out of there just in time. They put our guy away and we didn't put theirs away. That's what it amounts to."
The Yanks certainly had their chances. Their bats, silent all season, finally showed some life in the series. But they didn't do enough with their 10 hits Sunday, leaving 11 men on base.
Their best opportunity came in the fifth. With Cerutti laboring, the Yanks got run-scoring singles from Steve Sax and Don Mattingly to cut the Jays' lead to 7-3, and were clamoring for more.
But Cerutti escaped a bases-loaded, one-out mess without further damage, striking out Mel Hall and getting rookie Jim Leyritz on a deep fly to Bell at the left field wall.
Mattingly's RBI was one of the few successes he has had over the last month or so. The Yankee star is hitting only .212 in his last 132 at-bats, with no big flies and six RBIs, and has seen his average dip to a season-low .257.
"I haven't swung the bat well," Mattingly said. "I'm getting some pitches to hit, but the pitches I'm getting I'm not doing anything with. When I get them, I have to hit them. I can't swing at bad pitches or swing at the pitcher's pitches early in the count. And when I do get it in my favor, I have to start taking advantage."
Without Mattingly's bat, the Yankees have no hope of escaping the AL East cellar. After Friday's extra-inning win, it seemed they might be able to sweep the series and pull within 10 games. Now they're back where they started, 14 games behind the Jays, with the worst record in baseball.
Well, someone suggested to Mattingly, at least the Yankees got a split, and they went 4-3 on their road trip. That's not so bad.
"Yeah, it's not bad," Mattingly said. "But it still doesn't do us much good. Four and three isn't much good to us now."