Here's new twist: Jays flat, easy to roll over

June 26, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

TORONTO -- The skies were overcast, but the SkyDome roof was open.

Maybe the Toronto Blue Jays were hoping for a rainout.

The two-time defending world champions have lost seven straight games for the first time since August 1991. They're 12 1/2 games out of first place for the first time since August 1988.

They couldn't beat the Orioles' Mike Oquist and Jamie Moyer the past two games. They couldn't win yesterday even though Juan Guzman took a one-hitter into the eighth inning.

"They look real flat," said reliever Mark Williamson, one of seven Orioles remaining from the 1989 team that was edged by Toronto in the season's final weekend.

"They don't look like they know they can beat us. Before, even if we got ahead, there was an air about them. Now, I don't feel they've got that kind of presence. They're kind of dead.

"For us to come in here and give up two runs in two games, against that offense, with pitchers who've struggled a little bit, it's just a different feeling.

"You can feel it in the ballpark, too. The last two days have just been kind of, 'Ehhh.' There's been no life."

The Blue Jays, flat.

SkyDome, lifeless.

What's next, Cito Gaston naming Mike Mussina to start the All-Star Game?

In the past two days, the Orioles have outscored Toronto 7-0 in the final two innings, at a ballpark where they've lost 10 times in the Jays' final at-bat since '89.

"I don't think the crowd knows what's going on," Orioles reliever Jim Poole said. "It's the first time in a while they've seen their team not performing."

It's the first time since 1980 the Orioles have started a season 5-0 against Toronto. A victory today behind Mussina would give them their first SkyDome sweep in 11 tries.

"It seems like the roles have reversed," Poole said. "We go out there, and if it's a close game, we expect to get the runs to win. From the git-go, they don't seem as aggressive, as confident."

Only a club mired in a losing streak could possibly lose the way the Blue Jays did yesterday. Orioles manager Johnny Oates said Guzman's fastball was the best his team has seen all season.

The Orioles' only hit through 7 2/3 innings was a broken-bat single by Mark McLemore. Their only run came when Jeffrey Hammonds beat out a double-play ball -- and TV replays indicated he was out.

The Jays got a leadoff double in the first, a one-out double in the second and a leadoff single by Roberto Alomar in the sixth with Paul Molitor, Joe Carter and John Olerud coming to bat.

Three threats.

Zero runs.

The Jays have scored just seven times in their past seven games. They got their daily run yesterday on a bases-empty homer by catcher Randy Knorr in the fifth.

Knorr, batting .183, is Toronto's newest slugger. During the losing streak, he has hit the club's only two home runs, matching Carter's total for June.

At the start of the season, the Jays were hitting well but pitching poorly. Now, it's just the opposite, and Toronto has wasted quality starts in five of its past six games.

Detroit's Greg Gohr, Boston's Nate Minchey, the Orioles' Oquist -- these are the pitchers stifling the Blue Jays, pitchers who started the season in the International League.

"Every day you come in here, you sense that guys are trying to make that day the day to pick us up," Molitor said. "But it seems like something happens during the course of the game to put us in a negative mind-set.

"We're finding ways to lose instead of finding ways to win. We're expecting something bad to happen instead of something good."

And so the Orioles get the critical safe call on Hammonds, the sliding catch by center fielder Brady Anderson, the two-out, two-run homer by Cal Ripken in the eighth inning.

If there's one player who symbolizes the changing of the guard, it's reliever Mark Eichhorn. Think the Jays could have used him Friday night, when Gaston summoned Dave Righetti in the ninth inning of a 1-1 game?

The washed-up Righetti allowed four runs, and Eichhorn earned the victory. Yesterday, Eichhorn pitched two more scoreless innings, making it two wins in two days over his former team.

"You can envision a lot of scenarios as to how your season will unfold," Molitor said. "But being in last place in June wasn't one of them."

The Blue Jays, flat.

SkyDome, lifeless.

What's next in this bizarre reversal?

A 10-homer game by the Orioles?

=1 A wild pitch to give them the division title?

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