TORONTO -- The Orioles brought a lot of baggage to SkyDome this week. They brought a suitcase full of painful memories from 1989 and a sackful of bad karma from their first visit of '92, not to mention the pressure of this important four-game series.
They could have wilted under it all, especially after taking a serious beating in the series opener, but they have come back to put the division- leading Toronto Blue Jays on the defensive with two impressive wins.
Center fielder Mike Devereaux drove in five runs and Ben McDonald pitched a solid 7 2/3 innings last night as the Orioles pounded the Blue Jays, 11-4, to move to one game out of first place in the American League East.
Mission accomplished. The Orioles needed at least a split of their final series in Toronto to keep the pressure on. They can leave here with all the momentum if rookie left-hander Arthur Rhodes can pick up where McDonald left off when he faces untested rookie Doug Linton in the series finale this afternoon.
"We've still got a ballgame tomorrow," manager Johnny Oates said. "If we were going to be happy with a split, we might as well have just rested for four days and gone on to Kansas City. The game tomorrow has become a very big ballgame for us, and it is just as big for them, too."
The Blue Jays, who could have guaranteed themselves a split of the series if they had been able to exploit inexperienced starter Alan Mills Tuesday night, now appear to be at a disadvantage. There is a crack in their aura of invincibility, and it got a little wider when the Orioles finally put the hammer down last night.
"To me, [Tuesday] night's game has got to be pivotal for this ballclub," Oates said. "We were pretty well beat the night before, but we came back against [Tom] Henke after being six runs down in the ninth to put the tying run on deck. It didn't surprise me that we came back last night and won."
The Orioles have never had a lot of success at SkyDome, but they exploded in the middle innings to send Blue Jays starter Jimmy Key to his earliest exit of the season and carry McDonald to his 12th victory.
"We knew that they would not dominate us," Devereaux said. "When you look on paper, it might look like they should dominate us, but it sometimes takes unity to win, and we've got a lot of that."
They also had a lot of runs for a change, which didn't hurt. Devereaux increased his team-leading RBI total to 74 with a three-hit performance. Joe Orsulak drove in three runs. Every member of the starting lineup hit safely.
It looked for a short time as if Key were going to make it a long evening for the Orioles. He retired the first eight batters, but a two-out single by Jeff Tackett seemed to flip the switch on the Orioles' offensive machine.
Brady Anderson followed with his 16th home run of the season, pulling a full-count pitch into the Orioles bullpen behind right field. Six straight batters would reach base as the Orioles batted around to score three times, the final run scoring on a double by Devereaux and an RBI single by Cal Ripken.
The Orioles had an opportunity to get a few more when Glenn Davis singled and Randy Milligan walked to load the bases, but Key struck out Leo Gomez to get out of the jam. For an inning, it appeared as if that strikeout might be the pivotal at-bat of the game -- especially after the Blue Jays rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the third -- but Key could not collect himself long enough to survive the fourth.
Toronto leadoff man Devon White answered Anderson's two-run shot with one of his own in the bottom of the third. Manuel Lee opened the inning with a single and White drove a high fastball off the concrete facade above center field for his 13th home run of the year.
McDonald had gone three starts without allowing a home run, but he gave up two last night (Joe Carter also hit his 25th) and still leads the major leagues with 27 allowed.
"The next inning after your team scores, it's important to shut the other team down," McDonald said. "I made a bad pitch to Devon and a couple of things happened and they tied it up. I was able to put three or four zeros on the board after that and we scored some runs."
Key lasted 3 1/3 innings and was charged with five runs on eight hits. The outing was his shortest of the year -- by two innings -- and it dropped his record to 7-10.
"I'm in a slump," Key said. "We're getting close to crunch time, although we're not there yet. We've come too far to let this thing get away."
McDonald was able to right himself quickly, but the big lead didn't hurt.
The Blue Jays' three-run comeback could have been disheartening. Instead, the Orioles came back to load the bases with one out in the fourth and regained the lead on Devereaux's two-run single.
Strange as it might seem, it could have been even more lopsided. Gomez couldn't pull the trigger on the bases-loaded situation in the third and Ripken bounced into a double play to abbreviate the fourth. It was not until the fifth that the Orioles took full advantage of the slumping Blue Jays pitching staff, which had given up 35 runs in last week's four-game series against Detroit.
Reliever Mike Timlin had come on to get Toronto out of the fourth, but he got right into a bases-loaded, no-out jam when he returned to the mound. Orsulak made him pay for it with a chopper to the right side that caromed off second baseman Roberto Alomar for a funny-looking two-run double. Timlin retired the next two batters, but walked Anderson intentionally to load the bases again.
Bad move. Devereaux has been mopping up the RBI in those kind of situations and he did it again, clearing the bases with a drive up the alley in right-center to run his team-leading RBI total to 74.
Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston should have looked at the press notes, which listed Devereaux's stats with the bases loaded: 8-for-14 with 20 RBI. Make that 10-for-16 (.625) with 25 RBI. The club also has done rather well in that department lately. Since Aug. 3, the Orioles are a combined 12-for-16 (.750) with 20 RBI.