If the Orioles are going to finish at .500 this year, they will have to run the table.
The Toronto Blue Jays scored in three of the first four innings last night against Sidney Ponson, and their bullpen covered most of the game in a 4-1 victory over the Orioles before a season-low 17,809 at Camden Yards.
Melvin Mora went 3-for-4 with his 27th home run, a shot off Roy Halladay in the first, to tie the game at 1. A tormentor of the Orioles, Halladay left after the third because of a strict pitch count.
Held without an RBI, Miguel Tejada remains tied with Rafael Palmeiro for the club record at 142. Third baseman Eric Hinske snared Tejada's line drive near the foul line in the fifth inning to prevent David Newhan from scoring.
The Orioles could have used the run more than Tejada.
"That's just bad luck," manager Lee Mazzilli said.
The Orioles are 1-6 against Toronto at home, compared with 7-2 at SkyDome. At 74-81 overall, they must win the last three games against the Blue Jays and sweep the Boston Red Sox in a four-game series to avoid a seventh consecutive losing record.
"Our goal is still further in the future than seven games from now," said second baseman Brian Roberts. "Whether we'll end up there or not, you can see we're building in the right direction."
Eight of the first 11 batters reached against Ponson, with Gregg Zaun's home run in the second inning giving Toronto a 2-1 lead. Center fielder Larry Bigbie limited the damage by making a diving catch of Russ Adams' sinking liner with two runners on base and none out.
Though he faced the minimum number of batters in the third by getting a double play, Ponson already was 64 pitches into his start. And the total jumped to 86 after the fourth, when the Blue Jays tacked on another run on Orlando Hudson's two-out single.
"I couldn't throw my breaking pitches for strikes," Ponson said. "When those guys know a fastball's coming most of the time, they'll gear up for it."
Mazzilli made a change after six innings, with left-hander John Parrish coming out of the bullpen and the Orioles behind 3-1. Ponson allowed nine hits and threw 117 pitches, the most since Aug. 8, and the club's four-game winning streak was nearing an end.
"He was throwing the ball good, with good velocity. It's just that his pitch count got high real quick," Mazzilli said. "His ball was moving all over the place, which is good, I guess."
The Orioles' scoreless-innings streak ended at 21 when Blue Jays rookie Armando Rios singled with two outs in the first to deliver Hudson.
Toronto had four hits in the inning, but only one run scored. Newhan charged Hinske's single in right field and made a one-hop throw to the plate to nail Carlos Delgado.
Ponson has been in damage-control mode throughout the second half after losing 12 of his first 15 decisions and angering management with his poor conditioning. He was 8-2 since the break, but his past two starts have been a struggle.
After giving up six runs and 11 hits over seven innings at Boston, a game the Orioles lost in the 12th, Ponson labored again until retiring the last seven batters.
It could have been worse, given the number of base runners, but that was no consolation. "It's too late to think about that," he said. "I'm disappointed every time I lose. I'm not going to throw a party about it."
Before last night, Halladay was 10-2 with a 2.29 ERA lifetime against the Orioles, including eight consecutive wins. This was his second start since being activated from the disabled list.
He kept teetering, with the Orioles loading the bases in the second inning and having the first two batters reach in the third, but he left with a 3-1 lead.
Roberts flied out to end the first rally, which Bigbie kept alive with two outs by beating out a high chopper to shortstop, and Halladay got the next three outs in the third. Palmeiro, starting at first base despite a sore hamstring, flied to the warning track in center field.
Palmeiro's double in the eighth, after Toronto scored an unearned run off John Parrish, moved him past Carl Yastrzemski for eighth place on the all-time list for extra-base hits with 1,158.
NOTES: Tejada was named the American League's Player of the Week for the second time after batting .483 with three homers, 11 RBIs and an .862 slugging percentage. ... Jose Leon probably will return to Puerto Rico within the next few days to continue treatments on a strained left calf muscle. He hopes to be ready for the Puerto Rican Winter League, which begins Nov. 15.