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BASEBALL PLAYOFFS : Cone Sets Down A’s, Will Scoop Up Cash

David Cone will be unemployed in a week or two. Anybody need a pitcher?

Anybody need somebody who can hold the Oakland Athletics to five hits over eight innings?

That is what Cone did Thursday night in Game 2 of the American League playoffs, won by Toronto, 3-1.

That also is what Cone did in Game 6 of the 1988 National League playoffs, pitching a complete game and stopping the Dodgers on five hits.

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“I would put (this game) right up there with that game,” Cone said. “We were on the brink of elimination that night.”

Cone also wrote a newspaper column during that series, at least until he retired under fire for writing stuff that motivated the opposing team. (You know how those writers are.)

But that’s David Cone for you. He’s a pitcher worth a thousand words.

He is about to become a free agent, and the Blue Jays will be even bluer if he gets away.

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Toronto recruited Jack Morris and Cone for this very purpose--to pitch the big games. They worked Games 1 and 2, and Cone got the Blue Jays a split.

But once this season is over, where will giant-killer David take his slingshot?

“You think a lot about being called a hired gun,” Cone said. “And about where you’ll be the next year. You try to put that stuff out of your mind.

“The situation is a little tenuous. There are free agents in both dugouts in this series, so there’s very much a ‘win for now’ attitude. I’m in the same boat with a lot of other guys.”

Cone is 29 and in his prime. He is seventh among the New York Mets’ all-time winningest pitchers.

Inasmuch as he maintains an apartment in mid-town Manhattan, some believe Cone will go back to the Mets or perhaps try the Yankees.

Oakland pitcher Ron Darling, reflecting on his own service with the Mets, said: “I played in New York for 7 1/2 years and all I can say is that it just wore me down. . . . David’s only spent five years there. He doesn’t have that seven-year itch yet.”

Cone’s 1992 season began in New York with a peccadillo that made him front-page news. A woman accused him of sexual misbehavior in the Shea Stadium bullpen, which led to a week’s worth of punch lines by late-night TV comedians at the pitcher’s expense.

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On Aug. 27, while leading the National League in strikeouts, Cone was traded to Toronto for two players, Jeff Kent and Ryan Thompson, whose names are barely household words in their own households.

Cone had 13 victories at the time--more than most pitchers in Southern California had all season.

How good is he?

Very, very. In a serious situation for Toronto--despite a number of chrome-domed “Coneheads” in the SkyDome stands--Cone kept a town with baseball’s best attendance from turning against its team. He choked off that word “chokers” just as the word was about to spread.

Cone threw 109 pitches, 67 of them for strikes.

Except for one delivery that bounced off his catcher into the dugout and another flew a foot over batter Mike Bordick’s head, Cone had things under control. His only regret was not finishing what he started, because: “That’s what I prided myself on in New York.”

As for the way he started, Cone struck out Rickey Henderson on three pitches. He made Rickey look as awkward as a man trying to hit a mosquito with a toothbrush.

Oakland Manager Tony La Russa said that Cone’s stuff was such: “We saw some swings from our guys that we normally don’t see.”

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Because keeping Henderson off base--and preventing one of his patented leadoff homers--is vital to Toronto’s game plan, imagine how much it meant to the Blue Jays for Cone to treat Oakland’s little pest the way he did.

After whiffing him with the three pitches, Cone faced Henderson in the third inning with two men on. Rickey popped foul to the first baseman.

Fifth inning, Cone struck him out again. And then, in the eighth, Henderson hit into something you don’t see every day--the ol’ 7-5 double play.

Walt Weiss tagged at second and tried to take third on Henderson’s deep fly to left. Candy Maldonado shot him down, whereupon every player from the Blue Jay dugout emerged to embrace Maldonado on his way back.

The play left Henderson hitless for the series. That’s one of the reasons this series is tied, which also means that Cone’s work for Toronto isn’t done.

There definitely will be a Game 5 and Cone probably will pitch it, unless Manager Cito Gaston has a change of heart about using a three-man rotation and goes with Jimmy Key.

Where will Cone work next season? He is paying rent in New York and a mortgage in Kansas City, his hometown. He says Toronto is a nice place to visit and that he thought Oakland once wanted him to live there.

He hasn’t mentioned any other California towns.


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