As push comes to shove, Orioles score a knockout

May 12, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

That wasn't a sweep, it was a knockdown punch. The Toronto Blue Jays will rise off the canvas, but never again will this rivalry be the same.

Three straight nights, the Orioles rallied. Three straight nights, they stared down the team that had tormented them for more than a decade.

The last time they had swept Toronto, Ronald Reagan was in his first term, Cal Ripken was a rookie and Mike Mussina was 13 years old.

"I was worrying about clinching the Southern League championship," said Johnny Oates, who was in his first season as a manager for Double-A Nashville.

The year was 1982, and so much history followed. Remember the Jays' 10-homer game at Exhibition Stadium? The final series of '89? The night Cal Ripken Sr. failed to send Tim Hulett?

Every ghost is purged now.

The Blue Jays badly needed last night's game, and they didn't get it. The Orioles broke a 1-1 tie by scoring three runs on five pitches in the sixth inning, and on a night Lee Smith needed a rest, Mike Mussina pitched his first complete game since May 31, 1993.

The cries of "Sweep!" began in the eighth inning, and rang in the Blue Jays' ears the entire ninth. The sellout crowd was in a frenzy as Mussina closed out the 4-1 victory, standing, chanting, howling.

The Orioles were more subdued afterward, knowing 131 games remain, including 10 with Toronto. As first base coach Davey Lopes said, the series will only have meaning if the Orioles play as fearlessly in September, when the intensity is highest.

Indeed, the newer players couldn't understand all the fuss, but Mussina noted that it was the first time the Orioles believed they could beat Toronto. "Before, we used to go on the field and hope to be in it at the end to get lucky for a win," he said.

"We proved a point to ourselves, not necessarily to them," reliever Jim Poole said. "Joe Carter was right in spring training. We have to beat them. We took a big stride tonight. I was happy to see Mike put the exclamation point on it."

The Blue Jays, meanwhile, were left in a most unfamiliar position. They're 0-4-2 in six road series this season. They're only one game ahead of last-place Detroit in the five-team AL East. And they're six games out of first for the first time since Sept. 4, 1990.

Now they head to Boston after scoring only five runs in three games at Camden Yards. Roberto Alomar was 2-for-12 in this series, Paul Molitor 2-for-11, John Olerud 2-for-10. It was the first time all season Carter played three straight games without driving in a run.

"It's disappointing," Molitor said. "We looked forward to this week. This is not a good start. I'm not going to say we're going to lose the division with a bad week, but this isn't the way I saw it happening."

It's only May, but Molitor described last night's game as a near-must, "the time to set a tone." Todd Stottlemyre pitched on three days' rest. He entered the game 8-1 lifetime with a 2.58 ERA against the Orioles. But in the sixth, he allowed a leadoff homer by Harold Baines and a two-run shot by Chris Hoiles.

The Jays were so desperate for victory, manager Cito Gaston played the infield in with a runner on third and one out in the third inning. Rafael Palmeiro lined an opposite-field single over the glove of third baseman Ed Sprague, and just minutes after falling behind, the Orioles had tied the score.

"We were just confident," Mark McLemore said. "I'm not saying that last year the guys weren't confident. But this year, there's an air about our ballclub. We're going to score runs. We've proven that. That's a big difference."

So many good things are happening now. Jeffrey Hammonds goes on the disabled list, Jack Voigt makes a leaping catch at the wall and throws out Devon White at the plate. Never mind that Voigt is batting .208. Someday, he'll win a game for this team in October.

The Orioles are now 18-2 in games started by Mussina, Ben McDonald and Sid Fernandez -- and could easily be 20-0. Both losses came with Mussina pitching. In the first, he left with the score 2-2 in the ninth. In the second, he left with the score 2-2 after nine.

Want even better karma? The Orioles are 3-8 in games started by Jamie Moyer and Arthur Rhodes -- but one of those victories came in the middle game of this series, after Moyer lasted only 2 2/3 innings in his shortest outing of the season.

Mike Oquist replaced Moyer with two on and two out and the Orioles trailing 3-0. Pitching for the first in 10 days, he figured to be the designated mopup man. Instead, he threw five hitless innings to earn his first major-league victory.

In spring training, Oquist allowed two pinch-hit home runs by Toronto rookie Carlos Delgado. On Tuesday night, Delgado pinch hit for Darnell Coles with the bases loaded in the third. Oquist struck him out.

From Sid Fernandez and Rafael Palmeiro to Jack Voigt and Mike Oquist, the fear is gone. Three times, the Orioles knocked down the Toronto Blue Jays. They'll remember that come September, when it's time to knock them out.

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