This was the revenge of the Birds. A year and a day after the Baltimore Orioles lost to the Toronto Blue Jays in the heartbreak finish of 1989, the American League East race was being played out on a split screen.
In Boston, the Red Sox were winning, and on the field at Memorial Stadium, the Blue Jays were losing. The crowd of 24,442 true believers, gathered on a cool autumn evening, was standing, screaming on every pitch in the ninth inning, chanting, "Nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye."
"Everyone had their eyes on this game," Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Sam Horn said. "Because of that, we had to go out, play hard and win. If you can play a role as spoiler, you have to play it to the best of your ability."
The Orioles played their roles perfectly last night, beating the Blue Jays, 6-3, and all but ending Toronto's playoff chances in 1990. Boston (87-73) clinched a tie for the divisional title with a 4-3 win over the Chicago White Sox. The last hope for the Blue Jays (85-75) is to win the last two games in Baltimore, pray the Red Sox lose two to the White Sox, and force a playoff game Thursday.
"We can't throw in the towel and quit," Toronto third baseman Kelly Gruber said. "I don't believe in that."
The Blue Jays didn't quit last night. But they had a game shoved down their throats by an ex-farmhand, Jose Mesa. The rookie right-hander, acquired by the Orioles when they sent Mike Flanagan to Toronto in August 1987, went 7 2/3 innings, allowing three runs, four hits and six walks, and struck out four. He beat the Blue Jays for the second time this season and raised his record to 3-2.
"It was a lot of pressure," Mesa said. "This was a pennant race. I had to throw a lot of strikes."
Mesa received an offensive burst from Mike Devereaux, who hit a two-run home run to highlight a three-run sixth, and Horn, who hit a bases-empty pinch-hit homer in the eighth.
"We didn't want to lay down," Devereaux said. "This game meant nothing for us, except pride."
The game was crisp and tense. Toronto reached Mesa for two first-inning runs on Fred McGriff's RBI single to drive in Mookie Wilson and George Bell's sacrifice fly to bring home Gruber.
The Orioles chipped away against Toronto starter David Wells (11-6), getting a run in the second, as Jeff McKnight singled with two out and Bob Melvin doubled off the fence in center to drive in McKnight.
Gruber's double brought home Wilson to give the Blue Jays a 3-1 lead in the fifth. The Orioles then broke the game open in the sixth. Bill Ripken got a leadoff walk, and Devereaux followed with a home run to left, his 14th homer of the season and fourth in the past 10 games.
"I hit it well," Devereaux said. "I knew it was out."
The Orioles then looked for a knockout blow. After Milligan singled with one out, he moved to second on McKnight's unsuccessful attempt to bunt for a base hit. Melvin then staggered the Blue Jays, lining a single to left to score Milligan. The inning ended when Melvin was caught in a rundown.
It didn't matter. The Orioles had the Blue Jays on the run, adding a run in the seventh on a Craig Worthington double and Bill Ripken single, and getting a run in the eighth on Horn's homer off Duane Ward, his second pinch-hit shot off the Blue Jays' reliever this season.
Gregg Olson came out of the bullpen in the ninth. Olson got his 37th save, and the Blue Jays disappeared.
"The only thing we can do now is win," Wells said. "That's the bottom line. We have the capability to win. On paper, it looks like we should be far ahead. We have fighters."
But so do the Orioles. They remember the heartbreak of 1989.
"It was exciting," Devereaux said. "It was good for us to play Toronto at this time."
Devereaux said he looked at the scoreboard to check on the progress of the Red Sox game with the White Sox.
"You knew something was going on the way the crowd was yelling," he said. "You had to look."
And after the game ended, well, it was a victory the Orioles had to savor. It's payback time.
"We're not just playing out the season," Milligan said. "We have a chance to have a say in who will be the champions of the AL East. It was fun. Oh man, it was great."