Now up by two games, Toronto has weathered Detroit's latest challenge.
With a little help from the humidity in Baltimore, that is.
"The humidity is really conducive to throwing a good knuckleball," said Blue Jays starter Tom Candiotti, who threw eight innings of shutout ball in Toronto's 3-0 win at Memorial Stadium last night. "I've had some of my best [games] in real humid places. You'll have to ask a physicist why, but it works best when it's humid and muggy and this was one of the best I've thrown."
Candiotti allowed just one hit and then retired 22 straight batters before handing the ball over to reliever Tom Henke in the ninth.
"I've said all along, pitching and defense down the stretch is what wins pennants," said Toronto's acting manager Gene Tenace, who is handling the club in the absence of Cito Gaston (back trouble). "If we continue to get the pitching we've gotten in the three days here, we're going to have a lot of fun."
Since Detroit moved into a first-place tie last Saturday, Toronto has picked up the pace, a fact Tenace says is no coincidence.
"We've got that kind of ballclub," Tenace said.
Rightfielder Joe Carter, who doubled in Toronto's first two runs in the first inning, said the situation never has been in doubt.
"There were a lot of people panicking, a lot of talk in the media, the fans," said Carter. "But there wasn't one guy in this clubhouse who was really worried. There were still a lot of games to play. It was a matter of focusing on the positive things, like first place. At the start of the season, if someone had told us in spring training we could be in first place or share first place at the end of August, we'd have taken it, because it means we're in position to win it."
The only hitch in the entire evening was when Tenace took Candiotti out of the game at the start of the ninth inning. Before that move, the Blue Jays had had a chance at back-to-back complete game performances for the first time since 1988; and Candiotti, who evened his record at 11-11, had a chance to complete a game for the first time since Sept. 6, last year.
"I felt he was tired," explained Tenace. "He pitched the limit [110 pitches] and it was very humid. I thought he was out of gas and, with our bullpen, there was no sense forcing that guy to go back out there. He did his job."
Candiotti admitted as much. His fingers were "a little tired" and mentally, he was "exhausted."
"We have probably the best bullpen in the game and deep in the game like this, you give the ball to them," Candiotti said. "The emphasis here is not throwing a one-hitter or a complete game. The emphasis here is on winning. They're not going to blow our starters out, not going to let a guy go out there and go eight innings throwing good ball and then get tired and give up some hits and runs in the ninth inning. You give it to the bullpen. Now, if you don't have the strong bullpen, you do it yourself. But the bullpen is one of the reasons we're where we are right now. I'm just really happy we won."
* IT'S GOTTA BE SOMEONE ELSE: Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken made his second error in two nights last night. But this was in handling a sharply hit liner, not a throwing error like it was Tuesday. The last time Ripken made back-to-back errors was July 2 and 3, 1988. Last night's boot brings his total to five this season.
* COOLING OFF: The Orioles went 1-for-33 (.030) over the last 11 innings they played against Toronto and batted .165 overall.
* IN THE DEEP FREEZE: Although the Birds were no-hit by White Sox rookie Wilson Alvarez Aug. 11, last night's one-hitter by Candiotti and Henke was the first time the team had been one-hit since Jack Morris did it Sept. 25, 1988, for Detroit.
* A NEW STREAK: Orioles leftfielder Joe Orsulak, who saw his 21-game hitting streak come to an end Tuesday night, started a new one yesterday, getting the only hit Candiotti allowed.
* A SWEET FINALE: The Blue Jays will never again play in Memorial Stadium, but history will record Toronto won its last five games here, to wind up 39-58 lifetime.