Searching for the one statistic that defines the difference between the Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays? Start with the combined home runs by the two most feared hitters of each club since June 23.
Joe Carter and Dave Winfield, 32.
Cal Ripken and Glenn Davis, nine.
Need we say more? Carter and Winfield have given the Blue Jays the production out of the 3-4 spots that the Orioles have lacked all season, thanks mainly to the disappearing acts by Ripken and Davis.
Otherwise, these teams are surprisingly even, even though they're separated by five games in the AL East standings entering what was supposed to be a showdown series at Camden Yards.
The Orioles actually rate the edge in the two categories that measure pitching and defense, team ERA (3.87-4.01) and fielding percentage (.986-.985). The Jays are in first place largely because they've scored 73 more runs.
The big difference?
Carter and Winfield, 220 RBI.
Ripken and Davis, 108.
Carter, in fact, has more RBI (111) than Ripken and Davis combined -- and only one fewer homer (33) than the Orioles' most frequently used 3-4-5 hitters, Ripken, Davis and Randy Milligan.
Granted, it's unfair to cite one or two individuals for a team's finish, be it first or last. No less an authority than Rick Sutcliffe asks, "What if I didn't go 0-5 in July?" Nearly every Oriole can rephrase the question his own way.
That said, a team begins a season with certain expectations of its top players. The Orioles got less than they expected from Ripken and Davis, more than they expected from just about everyone else. That, of course, is how they contended this long.
This was the year that Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux exploded, the year the pitching staff emerged. The club rebounded from 95 losses, but the gnawing question remains: What if Ripken, Davis -- and to a lesser extent, Milligan -- had produced?
We know Ripken was slowed by nagging injuries, distracted by his contract negotiations. We know Davis was troubled by a new ailment seemingly every other week. The bottom line is, they weren't Carter and Winfield. And the Orioles suffered.
The club, in fact, is in the same position as when it acquired Davis in January 1991 -- in desperate need of a proven run producer. Ripken averaged 26 homers and 94 RBI before this season, and figures to approach those totals again. Davis, on the other hand, remains an utter mystery.
Here's all you need to know about Davis' two years with the Orioles: Only twice have he and Ripken homered in the same game, and it hasn't happened since his first month with the club. The two sluggers went nearly a year without homering in the same series before connecting against hapless Kansas City last week.
Carter and Winfield, meanwhile, just keep rolling along. They're two of the great run producers of their era, and strong clubhouse leaders as well. Winfield called a team meeting when the Blue Jays were reeling in late August. Before that he started a kangaroo court, naming himself judge.
Ripken prefers to lead by example, and Davis can't inspire his teammates from the whirlpool, but let's stick to the numbers. Winfield, 41, needs one more RBI to become the oldest player to reach 100. Carter, 32, has exceeded that total six of the past seven seasons -- and the year he didn't, he finished with 98.
It doesn't matter whether his team is good (Toronto), bad (Cleveland) or mediocre (San Diego), Carter gets his 100. If not for his one near-miss in 1988, he would have the longest streak of 100-RBI seasons since Willie Mays ran off eight straight from 1959-66.
That's astonishing, yet Carter won't be as coveted a free agent as Kirby Puckett, a player with two 100-RBI seasons. Nor is he considered Hall of Fame material, even though he already has as many 100s as Frank Robinson, and more than Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Stargell, Billy Williams and Willie McCovey.
Winfield, of course, is going to Cooperstown, but first he wants to avenge his 1-for-22 performance in the 1981 World Series. Attention, George Steinbrenner: Mr. May now needs just two more RBI to pass your beloved Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, and move into 13th on the all-time list.
Carter, on the other hand, is trying to prevent Cecil Fielder from becoming the first player since Babe Ruth to win three straight RBI titles. These are the little dramas that will make this series interesting. Carter and Winfield have all but taken care of the big one -- the division title.