TORONTO -- There isn't much that rookie right-hander Jose Mesa can do about the Baltimore Orioles' --ed division-title hopes, but he continues to give the club hope for the future.
The very near future.
Mesa pitched a solid 6 2/3 innings last night, his 5-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays confirming what manager Frank Robinson already had suspected -- that he will arrive at spring training next year with a legitimate chance to be in the starting rotation.
"Why not?" Robinson said. "He hasn't done anything to indicate otherwise since he's been here, as far as I'm concerned."
Mesa, who originally was signed by the Blue Jays in 1981, pitched into the seventh and gave up two runs on six hits on the way to his first major-league victory since 1987.
He traded scoreless innings with Toronto starter Dave Stieb until the Orioles broke through for five runs in the sixth, two of them on a one-out double by rookie first baseman David Segui and two more on a decisive two-out single by Steve Finley.
"I think this is the best I've thrown in the big leagues," said Mesa, who came to the Orioles in the trade that sent Mike Flanagan to the Blue Jays in August 1987. "I felt very happy to beat them, because they traded me and because they beat me in 1987. I waited three years to beat them, but I finally got it."
The Blue Jays were the team with everything to play for, but they blew a chance to gain a crucial game on the first-place Boston Red Sox. Stieb could have moved to within one victory of his first 20-win season, but could not silence an offense that usually keeps quiet all by itself.
Talk about an apparent mismatch. Mesa was winless in his first three starts this season. Stieb was 18-5 with a 2.78 ERA.
Then there were the other, less tangible contrasts. The Blue Jays had something to play for, coming into the game just four games behind the Red Sox in the American League East. The fifth-place Orioles were playing for pride, which doesn't carry quite the same weight as a World Series ring.
So what happens? Mesa hung in there very well, giving up just four hits through the first six innings to hold an explosive Blue Jays lineup in check long enough for the Orioles offense to come to life. But Robinson needed four relief pitchers to secure the victory, the bullpen parade culminating with Gregg Olson's 31st save of the season.
How do you figure it? For the first time in four games, the Orioles were facing a quality pitcher who is in the midst of a quality season. The Detroit Tigers sent three struggling starters to the mound at Memorial Stadium earlier this week and the Orioles responded with a total of three runs in three games. What could they realistically have expected against Stieb, who ranks among the league leaders in four statistical categories?
But Stieb was not particularly overpowering. He was in trouble in the second inning and again in the fifth before the Orioles broke through in the five-run sixth.
In the space of two innings, the Baltimore offense went to two extremes, first showing the SkyDome crowd of 49,875 why the club has had so much trouble scoring runs, then putting together the team's biggest inning since Aug. 12.
Cal Ripken led off with a double down the left-field line, and Sam Horn walked before Mickey Tettleton broke the scoreless tie with a sharp single to right. The RBI was only the second for Tettleton in his past 24 games.
Stieb complicated the situation by walking Craig Worthington to load the bases. He got Mike Devereaux on a shallow fly ball, but then gave up Segui's two-run double down the right-field line to give Mesa a 3-0 lead.
Bill Ripken struck out, but Finley lined a two-run single back through the middle to knock Stieb out of the game.
Mesa had given up at least three runs in each of his first three major-league starts this year, but he held the Blue Jays scoreless into the seventh, even though he pitched with runners on base in every inning.
Toronto got on the board when he walked Rob Ducey to lead off the seventh and gave up an RBI double to Pat Borders. The Jays added a second run on an RBI ground out by Junior Felix and cut the deficit to two on an eighth-inning RBI single by Rance Mulliniks.
Mookie Wilson knocked Mesa out with a two-out single in the seventh, but that did nothing to diminish his solid performance. He'll get four more starts before giving his surgically repaired elbow the winter off.
"I'm just going to take the whole winter off and come back to spring training and see what happens," he said.