TORONTO -- It was an evening of sudden turnabouts, so the last one Friday night at SkyDome should not have come as a great surprise to the Baltimore Orioles.
Reliever Gregg Olson has been struggling. His arm has not been 100 percent. His team does not have quite as much to play for as the contending Toronto Blue Jays.
Still, Olson and two-run leads seldom are seen parting company, so the Blue Jays' three-run rally in the ninth inning that dealt the Orioles an 8-7 loss had to be discouraging.
But it was that kind of night. The Orioles were on the wrong end of a three-run deficit and a potential no-hitter before they scored six runs in the sixth inning.
Toronto left-hander Jimmy Key hadn't given up anything even resembling a hit until David Segui opened the sixth with a double, but three outs later the Orioles were three runs ahead, thanks largely to Sam Horn's second career grand slam.
The Orioles had scored five times in the sixth inning the night before. They would score six this time, taking advantage of Key's leaving the game with a sore hamstring after Segui's double. Reliever Duane Ward gave up two walks, two singles and a low line drive that barely cleared the right-field fence.
Horn circled the bases, and the Blue Jays circled the wagons. They rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh and three with two out in the ninth on back-to-back pinch singles by Rance Mulliniks and rookie John Olerud.
"It was a tough loss," manager Frank Robinson said. "It was a game that gave us an opportunity to work our way back to respectability, and it got away. We just have to come back out and get them tomorrow."
Olson entered the game to get the Orioles out of a jam in th eighth, but he gave up back-to-back singles with one out in the ninth and then walked Fred McGriff to load the bases with two out. Mulliniks singled home two runs to tie the game and Olerud delivered a pinch single up the middle to end it.
But it was the walk to McGriff that would rest heavily on the mind of Olson, who thought he had thrown the third strike that would have ended the game in the Orioles favor. Plate umpire John Shulock saw it the other way.
"I have nothing to say," Olson said. "I'll just say something I'll regret."
Catcher Bob Melvin said: "He thought he had thrown a goo pitch. I thought it was a strike. The game comes down to a few pitches and an interpretation of the strike zone."
Olson recently spent nine days on the sidelines with a sore elbow, but both Melvin and Robinson said he was throwing all right. He has not been particularly sharp of late, but the two-run single by Mulliniks was not hit hard and the game-winning hit was a ground ball through the middle of the infield.
"I don't know of any pitcher who isn't going to get hit around a little bit once in a while," Melvin said.
It was a very important victory for the Blue Jays, who could see that the first-place Boston Red Sox were trailing the Chicago White Sox late in their game at Comiskey Park.
From a standings perspective, it wasn't quite so important for the Orioles, but a victory would have assured them a split of what they once had hoped would be a crucial series.
If it weren't for the six-run inning last night and the five-run sixth Thursday, there would have been little evidence that Baltimore's offense had even cleared customs. It has become something of a nightly ritual. No matter who the opposition trots out to the mound, the Orioles go quietly in the early innings. They have not scored before the sixth inning since completing a three-game sweep of the California Angels on Sunday.
The Detroit Tigers sent three struggling starters to the mound at Memorial Stadium last week, and it took the Orioles 21 innings to score off any one of them. Though the Orioles defeated Blue Jays right-hander Dave Stieb on Thursday night, they scored in only one inning -- the sixth.
So it shouldn't have come as any surprise that Key was able to hold the lineup at bay last night, though the extent to which he dominated it in the early innings was a surprise, considering he was pitching on the sore hamstring. He didn't give up anything even resembling a hit until Segui doubled to open the sixth.
By that time, the Blue Jays had built a three-run lead and dispatched rookie starter Anthony Telford, who gave up two runs on two hits and a walk in the fourth inning.
Toronto third baseman Kelly Gruber led off the fourth with a double up the alley in right and Telford complicated matters by walking George Bell. McGriff struck out, but Rob Ducey gave the Blue Jays the lead with a sharp ground ball into right field. Bell took third on the single and scored the second Toronto run on a fly ball to medium center.
Telford was unable to regroup after that. He gave up a two-out double to Mookie Wilson in the fifth and back-to-back singles to Tony Fernandez and Gruber before leaving the game down three runs.