TORONTO — Pressure on Blue Jays to make Series is hard to block out, 0) Flanagan says
TORONTO -- Orioles relief pitcher Mike Flanagan has some extra insight into the American League East race. He knows just how the Toronto Blue Jays are feeling right now. He used to be one of them.
Much has been made of the pressure that they are under to go to the World Series this year. Much has been said about the pressure that they must feel in the latter stages of a division race they were supposed to win easily. Flanagan says it is not just talk.
"I think from their side, they've been under a certain amount of pressure from the first day of spring training," Flanagan said. "They were the preseason pick. There is a pressure that goes with that. I'm not saying that they personally feel it, but it's hard not to sense it with it being around you every day."
The Blue Jays have been favored before, but the expectations have been amplified by a giant payroll and a number of recent near-misses. It has reached the point where a division title isn't even good enough. Anything less than a World Series appearance is going to be viewed as failure.
"It's harder here [in Toronto] than even when the O's had good teams in the past," Flanagan said. "The expectation in Baltimore was that we would be there to the end every year. It's tough to have the expectation level as high as it is here."
The Blue Jays accepted their most-favored-team status without reservation during spring training. Third baseman Kelly Gruber even told a reporter that the club should win the division by 15 games. Now, the surprising Orioles are threatening to push them right to the final weekend. More pressure.
"I'm sure there are moments when it does creep in," Flanagan said, "but they are real pros over there. They didn't panic today and we didn't panic after the first game. But it [the pressure] is hard to block
Outfielder Mike Devereaux sprinted under a long fly ball in the second inning, ready to make a tough out look like another routine play -- until the ball popped out of his glove and Gruber ended up at third with a triple.
It was, by Devereaux's count, the fourth fly ball this year that he should have caught that ended up somewhere other than the webbing of his glove.
"I don't think I've ever had a year when I've dropped that many," he said. "Sure, it bothers me. I just can't explain it. I guess I just lost my concentration.
"On the one today, I wasn't sure exactly how close I was to the fence, but that is no excuse. That ball has to be caught."
Gruber would score on an RBI single by catcher Randy Knorr to give the Blue Jays a 2-1 lead. The Orioles came back to tie the game in the seventh and would lose it after Toronto scored twice in the eighth, but Devereaux's non-catch was an important play.
"We've just got to do a better job of catching the ball," manager Johnny Oates said. "I get excited when he goes over the fence and brings the ball back into the park, but that was a play you have to make."
Anderson on series
Outfielder Brady Anderson maintains that the outcome of the Toronto series did not have a major impact on the club's confidence level, which he says already was high.
"I think we knew coming in that we could play with them," he said. "If we had lost three of four games or gotten swept, we still would be confident."
Blue Jays' pitching woes
When rookie Doug Linton went eight innings yesterday, it was only the third time in the past 12 games that a Blue Jays pitcher has gone seven or more. The Jays have lost five of their past eight games, which isn't that bad considering that the opposing team has averaged 6.9 runs in those eight games.
Remember when free-agent outfielder Candy Maldonado made it clear that he was willing to sign with the Orioles a couple of years ago? Well, it seems that the best revenge is playing well.
Maldonado had two more hits yesterday, raising his average against the Orioles this year to .389 (14-for-36). He had six hits and a two-run home run in the series.
When Joe Carter laid down a sacrifice bunt in the eighth inning of yesterday's game, it was only the ninth sacrifice of his career. Previously, he had not moved a runner over with a sacrifice bunt since 1989, when he was with Cleveland.
Wednesday night's victory gave the Orioles a 50-27 record (.649) in night games, the best record in the major leagues. In the afternoon, they are 15-23, which is better than only Kansas City's 11-18 mark in the AL. . . . Anderson has 66 RBI out of the leadoff spot. He's tied with Don Buford (1970) for the club record for RBI by a leadoff hitter in a season. . . . When Joe Orsulak struck out in the second inning yesterday, it was only his second strikeout in his past 26 games.