For all practical purposes, the American League East race may have ended for the Orioles when they lost the opener of their three-game showdown series against the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays. But they have not abandoned the pursuit.
Left-hander Arthur Rhodes delivered a strong, 8 1/3 -inning performance and Mike Devereaux drilled a three-run double to carry the Orioles to a 4-1 victory that evened the series and pulled the club to five games behind the Blue Jays.
Talk about a pick-me-up. Manager Johnny Oates seemed all but ready to concede the race before the game -- telling reporters that "there comes a time when you've got to face the music and be realistic" -- but he changed his tune afterward.
"Today was the first day this year where I was really down coming to the ballpark," he said. "Then I got here and I heard the chatter in the clubhouse, and I knew things were going to be all right. This was one day when the team really picked me up. We're way back. We've still got our backs to the wall, but we're still in it."
The victory had to provide a psychological boost for everyone in the Orioles clubhouse, but it doesn't really change anything. Even if Ben McDonald can take the rubber game of the series tonight, the Orioles would be four games out with 10 to play and two teams to catch. We're talking lottery odds.
No matter. They still can challenge the Milwaukee Brewers for second place and shoot for a 90-win season. Those were the revised goals that Oates was hinting at before the game.
Blue Jays right-hander Jack Morris was shooting for a 20-win season when he took the mound, but the Orioles broke his personal five-game winning streak despite a complete-game performance in which he gave up just seven hits.
Rhodes was far better. He gave up four hits and struck out seven on the way to his sixth victory of the season. He was two outs away from his third complete game when a walk to Candy Maldonado persuaded Oates to bring on stopper Gregg Olson to get his 34th save of the year.
"It's pretty exciting to see Arthur throw like that," Oates said. "To know he's capable of throwing like that gives you a lot of hope for the years to come."
The first two games of the series have come down to bases-loaded situations involving Devereaux, whose numbers in those situations are just this side of incredible. He popped up with the bases full to make the final out of the opener, but came back to deliver a three-run double in the third inning last night.
Morris (19-6) had retired the first six batters he faced, but dug a hole for himself in a hurry in the third. Chris Hoiles drew a leadoff walk and Leo Gomez singled before Bill Ripken dropped a perfect bunt down the third-base line for a single. Devereaux fell behind 0-and-2 in the count and then lined the ball over the head of left fielder Maldonado to clear the bases.
The raw numbers are staggering. Devereaux has 13 hits in 24 at-bats (.542) with the bases loaded and has driven in 38 runs. That's more than a third of his 105 RBI.
How does he do it? Not even Devereaux knows the answer to that question.
"I don't know what it is," he said recently. "People probably think I concentrate better, but I try to bear down all the time. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I know I'm going to get something to hit."
That couldn't have been the case last night, because Devereaux scalded the ball in the one situation (0-and-2) when he didn't figure to get anything decent from a pitcher with Morris' credentials.
"I threw the wrong pitch," Morris said afterward. "Actually, it was the right pitch in the wrong place . . . a hanging forkball. He just got me on the pitch. We could have put them away, but I made one bad pitch and it cost us the ballgame."
It also would cost Morris his first loss since the Orioles defeated him, 3-0, at SkyDome on Aug. 11. He was 5-0 with a 2.67 ERA in the seven starts in between and came into last night's game with a string of eight starts in which he had worked through seven innings.
been fortunate when we have faced Jack," said Oates. "He just seems to have one bad inning against us where we have one big hit, but it turned out to be enough."
Morris continued to struggle in the fourth inning. Chito Martine was credited with a one-out single when first baseman John Olerud was slow to pick up his ground ball and relay it to Morris covering first. Gomez followed with a two-out double off the right-field fence to increase the Orioles' lead to four runs.
The big question after that was whether the offense could break the four-run barrier that has suffocated the club for most of September. The Orioles had not scored more than four runs in a game since Sept. 4 -- a span of 16 games.