Crowning touch feels good to Orioles, McDonald, even from fifth place

On baseball

October 03, 1990|By Jim Henneman

Ben McDonald tried to downplay the significance of his role in the game he will pitch tonight (7:35, HTS).

Dave Johnson did the same thing about the game he pitched last night.

But neither could deny the fact that depriving a team of a chance to win a division championship is one of those special accomplishments that can be appreciated easier than explained. This is not winner-take-all, as it was a year ago between Toronto and Baltimore. It's a third-party scenario involving a team that has some memories from last year and wounds from this year.

McDonald left the clubhouse after the Orioles' 2-1 loss to Toronto last night without knowing who won the Boston-Chicago game. But, when asked if he had a special rooting interest in the game being watched on television in the locker room, he didn't hesitate.

"Yeah," McDonald admitted, "I have a little more now. You'd like to be in the position to play the spoiler -- but I can't let myself get too excited about it. It would be nice, but I can't think about it, otherwise I won't be able to do my job. I just have to go out and pitch.

"Either way, I'm going to approach it the same -- all I want to do is keep the ball rolling for next year."

On the other side of the clubhouse, Johnson was touching on the irony of one of his better performances of the year. It was on the next to last day of the season a year ago that he stepped in as an emergency starter and carried the Orioles into the eighth inning in a game that eventually would eliminate them from the race. This time he made it into the ninth, before a two-out home run by Fred McGriff provided the margin of victory.

"The circumstances certainly weren't the same," said Johnson, alluding to the fact that it wasn't the Orioles who faced elimination. "It's nothing against Toronto, but they beat us last year and it would have been nice to help decide the race.

"Normally the game I pitched would have been good enough to win. But as it turned out it wasn't good enough. I look back on it now and I second-guess myself because I let a man beat me who I shouldn't let beat me like that -- a home run with two outs. He had 34 home runs before he hit that one, and I guess you say that shouldn't happen.

"But I didn't want to walk him because [George] Bell was next and I haven't had much luck with him before."

What tortured Johnson most was the fact that McGriff hit the game-winner off a changeup, a pitch he had seen, but not hit, all night. "Normally I don't like to go with my fourth-best pitch," said Johnson, "but tonight it was my second-best pitch and I had gotten him out on it all night. When I let it go, I thought it was a good one, but it was probably the worst one I threw all night."

Johnson had little margin for error because Bud Black, the lefthander Toronto acquired specifically for the last three weeks of the season, mesmerized the Orioles on three hits for eight innings.

"I take my hat off to Bud Black and the Blue Jays," Orioles manager Frank Robinson said. "It was a gutty outing for them. They didn't have much to work with and they made it stand up.

"But you can't take anything away from Dave. You can't say enough about him, he did an excellent job. I'm just sorry he had to miss those four or five turns [with a back injury]," said Robinson. "I would've been anxious to see what he would've ended up with [Johnson is the club leader in wins with a 13-9 record]."

About an hour after the Blue Jays' win, the Red Sox finally lost to the White Sox, bringing everything down to the final day. If the Red Sox win, they win the division, if they lose and the Blue Jays win there will be a one-game playoff tomorrow in Toronto.

Somewhere in between stands Ben McDonald. He's 6 feet 7, throws 94 mph and seems to relish challenges.

"I feel very good about Ben going out there," said Robinson.

Undoubtedly Toronto manager Cito Gaston feels the same way about his ace, Dave Stieb. With everything on the line, it could be a classic confrontation.

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