They will turn out the lights on the inaugural season at Camden Yards sometime late tonight, but the Orioles' surprising run at the American League East title officially ended yesterday.
The Boston Red Sox waited out another lengthy rain delay to defeat the Orioles, 6-1. The loss, coupled with the Toronto Blue Jays' triumph in New York, mathematically eliminated the Orioles from the division race.
No great shock there, but the afternoon was a serious downer for the sellout crowd of 45,597, which waited out a 99-minute rain delay only to find out that Red Sox ace Roger Clemens would not be able to make his scheduled start against Rick Sutcliffe.
Clemens suffered a groin strain during pre-game warm-ups. He took the mound after the Red Sox batted in the first inning, but was removed from the game before he threw a pitch. The injury could cost him his final two starts of the season and, perhaps, hurt his chances at a fourth Cy Young Award.
Three innings into the game, Sutcliffe was gone, too. He gave up five runs on eight hits in just 2 1/3 innings and made his third straight early-inning departure. The loss dropped his record to 16-15 and raised his ERA to 4.47.
"I don't make excuses," Sutcliffe said. "I flat out stunk. I should have used all my pitches. The games that I've struggled, I didn't have a good fastball and I didn't make the adjustment to other pitches. Today, I shook off everything but the one [fastball] and the one wasn't very good."
Sutcliffe had hoped to finish the season strong. He was 16-12 with five starts remaining, but he has not pitched well since the rotation was altered to increase his workload. In his past three starts, he has pitched a total of eight innings and given up 15 earned runs on 19 hits. His ERA in September is 8.31.
The Orioles were down 5-1 by the end of the third inning, which didn't auger well for a comeback victory. The club had gone 20 straight games without scoring as many as five runs, and fill-in Red Sox starter Joe Hesketh helped run that string to 21 games -- tying a dubious Orioles record that has stood since the club's first year in Baltimore (1954).
Hesketh, who was mentioned as a possible Orioles free-agent acquisition two winters ago, entered the game on short notice and pitched well. He gave up four hits over eight innings to improve his record to 7-9.
The strength of his performance was difficult to gauge, however, because the Orioles have looked flat on offense for weeks. Even manager Johnny Oates could not deny that the club looked like a team that has lost some of its fire.
"I think the whole weekend has been that way," Oates said. "I guess you could start all the way back at the Yankee series, when we got in real late the night before and lost three to them. It seems like everything has been an effort rather than a reaction.
"All year long, we've been right there, but we never could get over the top. Maybe when there was a little gap [in the standings], we got tired."
Oates did not criticize the effort. He seemed to recognize that his team had made an impressive run at the Blue Jays and now were suffering the predictable letdown that comes with the realization that the pennant race is over. There still is hope of winning 90 games, but it would take a 6-1 run during the final week of the season.
"That is going to be tough to do," Oates said. "I think what we should do is try to play as hard as we can and with as much adrenalin as we can. But you could see out there today that it's pretty tough to do that sometimes."
The focus shifts to individual accomplishment now. Mike Mussina has at least one more chance to improve on his Cy Young credentials. Outfielder Mike Devereaux can add to some already impressive run-production numbers. Brady Anderson needs one home run to become the first player in AL history to have at least 20 home runs, 75 RBI and 50 stolen bases.
The Red Sox have been left with only individual accomplishments to ponder for weeks. The only suspense in Boston has been whether Clemens joins Steve Carlton as the only four-time Cy Young recipients in ma
jor-league history. That possibility diminished slightly when he walked off the mound yesterday, but he still has outstanding numbers.
He is 18-11 for a last-place team and has the best ERA (2.41) in the league. He leads the league in shutouts and ranks in the league's top three in victories, complete games (11), strikeouts (208) and innings pitched (208). He'll be a very strong candidate even if he doesn't throw another pitch, but he could have made it a cinch if he had won his last two starts.
"One start isn't going to make much difference," he said. "Sure, I'd like to be up there with Carlton and those other guys, but I just appreciate being considered for it. That's all I can hope for. It's like in '90, when I won 20 but someone else won more. There's nothing you can do about it."
Red Sox-Orioles scoring