Jays of frustration may be over: O's changes make all the difference

May 10, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL | KEN ROSENTHAL,Milestones and Memories O'S PROMOTIONAL SCHEDULE May 7: Rookie league magazine (fans 14 and under) May 17: growth poster (14 and under) =1 May 18: Preakness Week Celebration laser show

The times, they are 'a changing. For once, the ugly history meant nothing. For once, the Toronto Blue Jays weren't invincible. For once, it was the Orioles rallying from behind, dropping bunt singles, delivering clutch sacrifice flies.

It was only one game, one game in early May, one game in 162. But the Orioles made a statement last night. Made it against the team that haunts them. Made it with their million-dollar additions -- Sid Fernandez, Rafael Palmeiro and Lee Smith.

Fernandez didn't know about the Orioles' 33-58 record against Toronto since 1987. Palmeiro didn't witness the crushing final series of '89. Smith didn't care about the 13 times the Blue Jays have beaten the Orioles in their final at-bat since that time.

Orioles 4, Toronto 1.

The difference was evident.

The difference was immense.

Fernandez pitched 7 1/3 strong innings to move into second place in the American League with a 1.95 ERA. Palmeiro hit the double that ignited the Orioles' sixth-inning comeback. And Smith pitched another scoreless ninth for his 14th save.

Heck, the Orioles even won the middle-inning relief battle. Mark Williamson and Jim Poole provided the critical bridge to Smith by retiring Joe Carter and John Olerud in the eighth. Meanwhile, the Orioles got two insurance runs off Greg Cadaret in the bottom half -- on a bases-loaded walk and run-scoring wild pitch.

It's a brave new world, and not just in Baltimore. The New York Yankees last night grabbed sole possession of first place for the first time since July 27, 1988. They were tied for the lead on 18 occasions last season, but never overcame the final psychological hurdle, never took first for themselves.

No disrespect to the Blue Jays -- they're the two-time defending World Series champions, a team that once didn't know how to win, but now doesn't know how to lose. But their pitching is even worse than last season, and closer Duane Ward is still on the disabled list.

All those late-inning victories over the Orioles? "That's in the past," Palmeiro said. "It's a different season, and a different team. That's an amazing stat. But the Blue Jays are an amazing team. They don't just do that to the Orioles. They do that to everyone."

Yes, but maybe things will be different now. The Orioles are 19-10 for only the second time since their World Series championship season in 1970. They're 17-2 in games started by Fernandez, Ben McDonald and Mike Mussina. Heck, they're even 11-0 in their black jerseys.

Remember last June 29, when McDonald took a 1-0 lead into the ninth against Toronto, only to lose 2-1? Last night, Fernandez took a 2-1 lead into the eighth. The sellout crowd groaned when manager Johnny Oates pulled him after a one-out walk to Paul Molitor, but this time there was no late-inning collapse.

With Carter batting, Oates summoned right-handed Williamson. Carter, the major-league leader with 39 RBIs, was only 4-for-24 off Williamson. He hit a rocket to right-center field, but Mike Devereaux -- the same Mike Devereaux who left the field bleeding from the mouth the day before -- ran it down.

Olerud was next -- the same Olerud who delivered the game-tying hit against Brad Pennington last June. Oates went to his bullpen again, calling for left-handed Poole. The day before, Poole retired Eddie Murray on a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded. This time, he went one better. He struck Olerud out.

All night, the Orioles seemed unusually poised, oddly in control. The Jays entered the game leading the league in runs, batting average, hits, doubles, triples and sacrifice flies. But playing without Harold Baines, Jeffrey Hammonds and Chris Sabo, the Orioles were more resourceful.

In the sixth, they got an infield single from Devereaux, a double off the center-field wall by Palmeiro (.395 against left-handers) and a sacrifice fly by Cal Ripken, who is quietly on a 117-RBI pace.

In the seventh, they got a leadoff single from 0-for-23 Lonnie Smith, an infield single from Mark McLemore and a bunt single from Jack Voigt, who was trying to sacrifice.

With the bases loaded and none out, Brady Anderson hit a sacrifice fly for the go-ahead run. Andersonis in a 0-for-22 slump. 2...2TC He stranded eight runners with the bases loaded last night. But he brought home the go-ahead run.

Maybe things will be different now. This spring, Carter spoke of the Jays' psychological edge over the Orioles. Even last night, he said, "They want to win, but they have to get by the Blue Jays. They're trying to take something away from us. It's just a ballgame to us. All the pressure is on them."

Carter is right about that.

+ But last night was a start.

THE CLASS OF '84

Sid Fernandez, who was a rookie in 1984, got his 100th career win by defeating the Blue Jays, 4-1, last night. Here's how other members of the class of 1984 have fared:

Pitcher ....... ....... Wins

Roger Clemens ......... 166

Dwight Gooden ......... 156

Mark Langston ......... 145

Jimmy Key ............. 139

Bret Saberhagen ....... 124

Mark Gubicza ......... 110

Jose Rijo .............. 98

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