It was a classic matchup of experience against youth. A proven big-game winner against a kid trying to make his mark in the big leagues.
Jack Morris, 37, was making his second attempt for his 20th win this year. Arthur Rhodes, 22, was trying to get over the .500 mark and break a four-game losing streak at home.
The odds heavily favored the Toronto Blue Jays taking another step toward their second straight division championship and pushing the Orioles closer to elimination. But, Mike Devereaux got another chance to bat with the bases loaded (he's 13-for-24 in such situations) and ripped a three-run double in the third inning and Rhodes made the hit stand up in a 4-1 victory.
When it was over, Morris (19-6) was blunt in his assessment of what had taken place. "They beat us," he said. "They outhit us, they outplayed us.
"I made one bad pitch and it cost us the game. The kid [Rhodes] fTC outpitched me tonight. You can't spot them that many runs and expect to win."
Instead of becoming the first Toronto pitcher to win 20 games in a season, Morris had to settle for his sixth complete game of the year, a very small consolation.
"It seems like the few times we've been able to beat Jack, it's by getting a few runs in one inning," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "You don't get many chances against him, and except for that one inning [the third] we didn't do much."
But this was one of those times when Rhodes (6-5) didn't need an abundance of support. When he escaped a bases-loaded, two-out situation in the sixth by getting Kelly Gruber on a bouncer to the mound he was over the hump.
"I knew that was the big moment," said Rhodes. "I saw Johnny looking out to the bullpen and I said to myself 'I might be out of here if I don't get Kelly out.' It was a high slider, but I got him to hit it back to me."
It was the kind of situation Rhodes might not have survived a year ago, possibly even a month ago. "I think the game in Seattle [Aug. 29] was a turning point for him," said Oates.
"We challenged him in that game -- told him he had to throw strikes or we'd go to somebody else -- and he responded. This is a raw, raw talent -- and I get excited as he gets better. He gives you a lot of hope for the years to come."
Last night was not the best game Rhodes has pitched this year. But considering the circumstances provided by a pennant race and the fact that he hadn't won at Camden Yards in five tries, dating back to July 24, it might have been his most impressive.
"He threw some fastballs by good fastball hitters," said Oates. "I think he was just wild enough that they couldn't get comfortable against him."
Dave Winfield seconded that notion. "He [Rhodes] was just wild enough to get guys out when we just got started," said the Blue Jays' designated hitter. "He had good velocity."
Morris brought his usual array of pitches to the fray -- fastball, slider and the split-fingered pitch that has become his trademark. Only occasional does the split-finger fail him, and last night was one of those rare times.
"It was the right pitch," Morris said about the double by Devereaux, "it was just in the wrong place. It was a hanger and he got me."
For Devereaux (108 runs batted in), the deciding hit was just the latest in a season-long streak. "With the bases loaded, he [the pitcher] has to throw you a strike," said the center fielder. "That's the frame of mind to have with the bases loaded.
"Mentally you visualize what you're going to do, and that's what I did," said Devereaux, who hit an 0-and-2 pitch to break a scoreless tie. When Leo Gomez drove in a run with a double in the fourth inning, it marked the first time in 17 games that the Orioles managed as many as four runs -- and Devereaux has driven in eight of the club's last 11.
Once he had the lead, Rhodes was able to keep the division leaders in check. "I wanted to pitch against them again [he lost a 4-2 decision in Toronto Aug. 13], and I wanted to get a win here because it had been a long time," said the left-hander.
The win left the Orioles five games behind the Blue Jays, and a game and a half behind Milwaukee, and clinging to hope for a miracle finish. But more important than keeping the magic number at six, the win demonstrated to Oates that his team hasn't lost its resiliency.
"Today was one of the few times I didn't feel good coming to the park," Oates admitted. "I don't know if it was apprehension or what. But the minute guys started coming in here [the clubhouse] and I could hear the chatter, I knew we'd be OK.
"I always preach that you have to come to the park the same way every day, but this was one of those days when they picked me up. I think a game like tonight tells you a lot about the makeup of this team," said Oates.
"I think it's easier to make a true judgment about a team after a night like last night [Tuesday's 4-3 loss], than it is on the seventh day of a seven-game winning streak. When you're on a winning streak, everything seems right and it's easy to stay upbeat.
"When you can bounce back from a game like we had, that's a good sign."
And that, maybe, is more than just a little consolation for Oates.
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Blue Jays starter: Jimmy Key (11-13, 3.52)
Orioles starter: Ben McDonald (12-12, 4.26)
TV: Home Team Sports
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)
Tickets: Scattered single seats remain. Also, 275 standing-room tickets go on sale when the gates open.