WHEN Toronto's Blue Jays won the 90th World Series, it was more than just another North American city team winning baseball's biggest trophy. Canada won too.
At least that's the way it seemed to Fares Salem. The 21-year-old Palestinian immigrant was selling Canadian flags at $5 (Canadian; $3.83 US) a pop to fans pouring past him minutes after the Jays clinched a thrilling 8-6 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday night, winning the series four games to two.
``I think that this win is for all of Canada,'' Mr. Salem said. ``I'm also happy because I'm selling more flags.''
For some the big victory was more than just a big bash. Canadians anguishing over who to vote for in today's federal elections said the juxtaposition of the bitter federal campaign with the sweet Blue Jays victory are opposites that neutralize each other.
``This is great whenever you get something that puts together a whole nation,'' said Darte Miller, a steelworker from Welland, Ontario. ``I feel a lot better than I was just three hours ago. I think I'll be ready to go to the polls now.''
Despite all the national spirit, ``Canada's team'' had only one Canadian on it. That lone wolf, Rob Butler, got a hit the only time he batted in the series. His pinch-hit single in the Jays' 2-0 loss Thursday in Philadelphia was the first by a Canadian during a World Series since the New York Yankees' George Selkirk did it in 1941.
Much was made in the Toronto news media of the superficial differences between the two teams. The Phillies were portrayed as scruffy and volatile, the Jays as cleanshaven and businesslike. Still, the hitting was good on both sides - and the pitching was erratic at best.
Game Four's 15-14 smashup was the most runs ever scored in a Series game - an event that several sportswriters derided as a slop-fest in which neither team's pitchers seemed capable of doing more than throwing batting practice.
But Saturday's sixth-game victory was a true milestone. It was the first time a Fall Classic has been decided outside the United States. And it was the first time any team had won two consecutive world championships since the New York Yankees won in 1977 and 1978 - a fact most fans seemed acutely aware of.
Jonathan Mills and Larry Peters, both of Toronto, had each attended last year's series. They didn't hesitate a moment when asked how this year's victory differed from last year's. ``This is so much sweeter,'' exclaimed Mr. Mills, who suddenly jammed his own back flat against Mr. Peters's, both of them teetering and shouting ``back to back!'' Peters added: ``And we beat the Americans too.''
For some Canadian fans, this year's second win in a row brought a fresh opportunity to tweak their ``superpower'' neighbor to the south, which has not come often enough since last year's upside-down Canadian flag debacle. Slight remembered
Americans may have forgotten what merited only a footnote in the US press, but a great many Canadians keenly recollect how the US Marine color guard presented their flag - with its maple leaf emblem wrong side up - at the first game of last year's Series in Atlanta.
Though tacitly forgiving that slight, Jays fans aren't beyond rubbing in this year's victory just a little. ``We're getting kind of used to winning championships,'' said Cathy Ambrose, a Torontonian. ``Seems like baseball's getting to be Canada's pastime.''
Actually, baseball does seem to be doing something to Canada. While hockey will never be supplanted, the victories over US baseball teams two years in a row appear to have evoked a nationalist fervor and unity usually reserved for big Olympic victories.
``I remember last year how the Jays united everyone,'' says steelworker Miller. ``Everyone was pointing to the Jays and saying, `This is us, this is Canada.' I feel that again this year, too.''
Two hundred buses stuffed with Jays fans made the 2,800 mile trip from Vancouver for the last games of the series, even though there were no tickets available. Their apparent intent: to be on hand when, not if, the Jays won.
That sort of faith was not there even a year ago, said several fans. Back then, the Blue Jays still had not shed the vestiges of the old ``Blow Jays'' moniker - for their former proficiency in losing games when they had a substantial lead.
This latent concern was raised anew when the Toronto Globe and Mail revealed in Saturday's editions that the hometown team was again anguishing over premature preparations by city officials (they did it last year too) for a victory parade even before the Series was decided. But the ballplayers' fears that this might jinx the team never materialized.
Instead, the heroics of the Series' most valuable player, Paul Molitor, and of game-winning home-run hitter Joe Carter slammed the door shut on the Phillies, who had rallied valiantly with five runs in the seventh inning and led 6-5 going into the bottom of the ninth on Saturday.
After that, the excited though markedly well-behaved throngs moved down Front Street past black-tie crowds looking on from the Royal York Hotel, an orderly flow of humanity streaming toward Yonge Street where the midnight celebration continued into the early hours.