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FREE AGENCY, EXPANSION WILL CHANGE JAYS, BRAVES

SHARE FREE AGENCY, EXPANSION WILL CHANGE JAYS, BRAVES

Just when the Toronto Blue Jays finally put it all together, they're in danger of splitting up. Today's World Series heroes may be tomorrow's Marlins.

The Atlanta Braves, so near the past two years, could lose players who got them that far - Lonnie Smith, Damon Berryhill and Francisco Cabrera - and one who kept them from going further - Jeff Reardon.The drama of the Series is done. Free agency and the expansion draft await. But both teams should remain strong by giving larger roles to their well-stocked stables of talented, young players.

"We have a lot of free agents and I don't know what is going to happen," Toronto manager Cito Gaston said. "I don't know if we can afford them."

The Blue Jays won their first title in their first Series after falling in their three AL playoffs before this year. Atlanta failed in its second tight Series in two years, suffering four one-run losses.

Toronto, which has 12 potential free agents, survived two comebacks Saturday night to win 4-3 in 11 innings and take the Series four games to two.

The heroes of that win - Dave Winfield, David Cone and Jimmy Key - like the heroes of all six games, could be elsewhere next season. Some can become free agents. Others might be claimed by the Florida Marlins or Colorado Rockies in the expansion draft Nov. 17. Even Series MVP Pat Borders is expected to be unprotected.

Winfield, who grounded the winning, two-run double inside the third-base line off Charlie Leibrandt to give Toronto a 4-2 lead, can become a free agent if the Jays don't offer arbitration by Thursday. Cone, who started the finale and pitched six strong innings, and Key, who got the win, are eligible for free agency.

Berryhill, whose homer won Game 1, and Toronto's Ed Sprague, whose homer won Game 2, are likely to be unprotected in the expansion draft. Toronto's Candy Maldonado, who singled in the winning run in the ninth inning of Game 3, is in the same situation as Winfield.

Key was the star of Game 4, allowing one run in 72/3 innings. Smith, who wouldn't be a high priority for the Braves if he declares free agency, decided Game 5 with his fifth-inning grand slam.

Reardon, the closer obtained from Boston Aug. 30, gave up the winning hits in the second and third games. Atlanta doesn't plan to offer him arbitration by Thursday.

With top prospect Javier Lopez looming as Atlanta's future catcher, Cabrera, whose two-run single won Game 7 of the NL playoffs, could be in Denver or Miami next season.

He and other Braves who may leave already have done their part.

"We're thankful that we even got here this year," Braves manager Bobby Cox said in his early Sunday morning gloom. "Everyone else is home now."

The crowd of 51,763 would have been home, too, if not for another trademark comeback.

Down to their last strike, the Braves tied the game 2-2 on Otis Nixon's run-scoring single in the ninth. Trailing 4-3 with two outs and the tying run on third in the 11th, Nixon tried to bunt the runner home. But his blazing speed couldn't beat the throw by alert reliever Mike Timlin to first baseman Joe Carter.

"We just kept at it," Carter said. "They didn't quit."

It was an exciting Series in which neither team can be accused of choking. Not even Charlie Leibrandt, who got Winfield to hit the ball on the ground in the 11th but couldn't get him to hit it at a fielder.

"I came up one pitch short, that's all," said Leibrandt, who finished the season with 23 straight scoreless innings but hadn't pitched in the Series until the 10th inning of Game 6.

"He gave up a ground ball," Cox said. "You can't fault that."

Nobody can accuse the Blue Jays of choking anymore.

They lost the 1985 playoffs after leading 3-1, blew a 31/2-game AL East lead in the final week of 1987, and lost the 1989 and 1991 playoffs 4-1. Gaston, who took over the team in 1989, has been criticized by reporters.

"I don't feel any animosity in my heart toward the media," he said after becoming a champion. "I don't feel happy, like, `Hey, I showed you.' "

This isn't Toronto's first baseball championship. The Maple Leafs won nine International League crowns. And teams called the Blue Jays, from Medicine Hat in the Pioneer League in 1982 and St. Catharine's in the New York-Penn League in 1986, won titles.

But this is the first time the Toronto Blue Jays have put it all together. They had enough pitching, hitting, fielding and managing at the right time.

"These guys deserve everything," said Winfield, who joined them before the season as a free agent. "This is the best team I've ever played for."