An injury forced the Baltimore Orioles to deviate from their glance into the future last night.
With Jose Mesa shelved, the youngest pitching rotation in the major leagues suddenly turned an average of more than a year older, as Dave Johnson, 31, took the mound.
But the additional experience didn't mean much to the Toronto Blue Jays, who scored five runs in the middle innings and defeated the Orioles, 5-2, before 28,063 at Memorial Stadium.
It was an important victory for the Blue Jays, who remain tied for first with the surprising Detroit Tigers in the American League East.
"I think we've turned around," said Gaston's replacement, Gene Tenace, who is substituting for manager Cito Gaston, in a Canadian hospital because of chronic back pain. "The guys are playing with the intensity they need to."
Johnson didn't pitch all that badly, but a ground ball that skittered under Leo Gomez's glove in the fourth opened the gates to a three-run inning that proved the difference.
"If Leo is able to make that play and turn it into a double play, it changes the whole complexion of that inning," said Orioles manager John Oates. "The ball just ran underneath his glove. It was not a routine play, but it was a makeable play."
Candy Maldonaldo got a hit on the play, knocking in the second run of the inning with the team's fourth straight single. One out later, Rance Mulliniks singled home another run, and the Orioles never overcame that rally.
Johnson allowed a leadoff homer in the fifth to Devon White on "a changeup to a fastball hitter" and two more hits and a run in the sixth before yielding to the bullpen.
"I think that was the best I've felt physically and mentally all year," said Johnson. "No doubt I threw a better game than I did against Texas [in relief a week ago]. I threw a lot of good sinkers."
Oates was reserving a decision on whether Johnson would be back for another turn but said it would "be logical for him to start. He threw the ball extremely well. But I haven't thought farther ahead than this game."
"Nothing is guaranteed," said Johnson. "He'll give me the ball again, but I don't know if it'll be in five days or 30 days."
Blue Jays starter Jimmy Key allowed only one earned run in six innings and became the third pitcher in club history with 100 wins. The others are Dave Stieb (170) and Jim Clancy (128).
"I wasn't thinking about it," Key said. "It was going to come eventually. I haven't reflected on it. A lot of guys never win 100, but I've been fortunate enough to be on some good teams."
Key's throwing error cost him a run in the third, and two innings later, Mike Devereaux led off with his 15th homer. The left-hander worked out of a two-on jam in the sixth, then turned the game over to the bullpen.
"They scored some runs for me early," he said, then forecast a Blue Jays triumph in the division. "I think we'll win. We have too many quality pitchers."
It broke a three-game losing streak by Key, who has a 47-27 lifetime record on the road.
Rookie Mike Timlin allowed two hits in the seventh, but then struck out five in a row to keep the lead secure, and Tom Henke pitched the ninth to collect his 30th save.
"I got lucky," said Timlin. "I threw a lot of strikes and they missed them. The umpire [Tim Tschida] had a high strike zone, so I had to work it where I wouldn't get hurt."
The Orioles had some offensive chances against all three pitchers, but they "made the pitches when they had to," said Oates. "We had runners out there and couldn't get them home."
With the Tigers playing on the West Coast, the Blue Jays were guaranteed of retaining at least a share of the division lead. They have been on top (tied or not) every day since June 23.
The victory was their seventh in the past 18 games and 12th in 25 during a current 39-game stretch against the AL East. They finish the season against the West.
"They took advantage of every mistake," said Johnson. "That's why they're in first place. But if I go out there and throw 30 times like I did tonight, I'm going to win a lot of games."
Site: Memorial Stadium
Blue Jays starter: Juan Guzman (4-2, 3.56)
Orioles starter: Arthur Rhodes (0-0, 6.75)
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)