Blue Jays pound lid on O's season 8-run second, 11-6 loss bring frustrating year full circle

October 04, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The 1993 season ended much as it began. The Orioles went down hard in their final game yesterday, finishing in a tailspin that looked much like the season-opening slump that put them at such a disadvantage in April.

The Toronto Blue Jays scored eight runs in the second inning en route to an 11-6 victory that sends them into the American League Championship Series on a roll. It sends the Orioles home to ponder what might have been and what might happen next year.

Here is a look at the bookends: Right fielder Joe Carter hit two home runs off Ben McDonald in the second-inning bat-around to become the first player to homer twice in the same inning against the Orioles.

In the season opener, Texas Rangers Juan Gonzalez and Dean Palmer each hit two home runs to send the Orioles reeling into a 5-13 slump. In the season-ender, the Blue Jays put the finishing touches on the 6-13 slump that scuttled a once-promising stretch drive.

The loss left the Orioles in a tie for third place with the Detroit Tigers, 10 games behind the Blue Jays, but it was closer than that. The Orioles were in first place on July 20, and were a half-game out on Sept. 9. They appeared to have everything in their favor as they embarked on their final road trip, but their divisional challenge unraveled with lost series in Boston, Milwaukee and Cleveland.

"It's been an emotional season," manager Johnny Oates said. "I've never been around a team that played so well at times and so poorly at times. I'm going to go home and figure out which team we really were."

The Orioles had a 10-game winning streak and two eight-game streaks that kept them in contention throughout the summer, but fell victim at the end to a series of key injuries. Right-hander Mike Mussina was hampered all year by shoulder and back stiffness. Gregg Olson spent the final two months trying to deal with a career-threatening ligament tear in his elbow. Rick Sutcliffe tried to pitch on a bad knee and cost himself a winning season.

McDonald cost himself a winning season yesterday with one of the worst performances of his career, giving up eight runs over 1 2/3 innings to drop to 13-14 and fall out of the league's ERA leaders. It was a tough end to a hard-luck season in which he pitched well enough to be one of the majors' top winners.

"I wanted to end with a winning record, so I'm a little disappointed," McDonald said. "I didn't end with a win, but that doesn't put a damper on this year. I think I'll be judged on all 34 starts."

He was impressive, giving up two runs or fewer in 20 of those 34 starts, but he saved one of his worst for last. Carter opened the second inning with his 32nd home run and hit a two-run shot for his 33rd to knock out McDonald. It was the 25th time in major-league history that a player had homered twice in the same inning and the 11th time in the American League.

"Ben couldn't get the ball down in the second inning to save his life," Oates said. "He tried to make every adjustment out there he could, but everything he threw was above the belt. You just can't pitch up against this ballclub."

The Blue Jays head for the playoffs in Chicago on a high. Second baseman Roberto Alomar closed out the regular season with a career-high, five-RBI performance that included three run-scoring hits. Carter didn't take another swing after the two homers, but finished the season among the league leaders with 33 homers and 121 RBI.

He might have had a chance to go for another big swing in his third plate appearance of the game, but Alomar inadvertently took the bat out of his hands. Alomar stole second as Carter jumped ahead 2-0 on the count against rookie left-hander John O'Donoghue, leaving first base open. The Orioles walked Carter intentionally, and he left the game soon thereafter.

"Everyone had their game face on today," Carter said. "It was a playoff atmosphere. Facing McDonald was like facing [the White Sox's Jack] McDowell, both tall right-handers. It helped us get into a playoff mode, and we tried to make some things happen."

Chris Hoiles provided most of the excitement and intrigue for the sellout crowd of 45,913, which cheered wildly when he hit his 29th home run in the third inning. He had two more shots to become the second Orioles catcher to hit 30, but settled for a three-RBI performance that included a first-inning sacrifice fly and a checked-swing single in the eighth.

Oates drove back to his Virginia home last night, uncertain whether he'll be back as manager next year, but with the knowledge that the Orioles did make enough strides in 1993 to be optimistic about the future.

"I would guess that every play we've made this year will pass through my mind," he said.

The progress made by Hoiles behind the plate will be one of the highlights, he said.

So will the emergence of Mark McLemore as a solid outfielder and surprising run producer.

When Oates allows himself to look ahead, he can see McDonald becoming one of the premier pitchers in the game.

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