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The Orioles take their comforts where they can find them these days, regardless of how modest. And one of those meager victories came last night -- not so much in the 8-5 win over Toronto  that helps Baltimore stay out of the AL East cellar -- but in rookie pitcher Jeremy Guthrie's return to the mound.

Guthrie, a first-half All-Star candidate who had missed the last three weeks with a strained oblique, tossed five innings of three-run ball. It certainly wasn't Guthrie at his most dominant, and he wasn't even all that efficient (he threw 48 strikes in 80 pitches), but that he returned at all and showed some semblance of his early-season form was heartening for Orioles fans.

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As usual, Guthrie, 7-5 this season, came away with a no-decision. Earlier this year, a lack of run-support cost Guthrie several victories as he had built a 7-3 record by late July. Last night, defensive problems torpedoed him. But he pitched. And he pitched well enough to have won given some better circumstances. For Baltimore baseball these days, that's what we call a "bright spot."

*  In the National League, the Mets find themselves facing the very real possibility of not making the playoffs after having had a seven-game lead in the NL East with 17 games remaining. New York has lost seven straight at home after being shut out, 3-0, last night by the Cardinals. The Phillies beat Atlanta, 6-4, and have climbed into a tie with the Mets. Both teams play their final three regular-season games at home -- the Mets against Florida and the Phillies against Washington.

Both NL East contenders are one-game behind San Diego in the wild-card race. The Padres are one game behind first-place Arizona in the NL West, and Colorado, which has won 11 straight, is one game behind San Diego. Somewhere, baseball draws more than yawns this time of year.

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