TORONTO -- The Orioles returned to SkyDome to find that nothing had changed. No two-bit All-Star controversy could alter the strange chemistry that has bedeviled them throughout the five years that they have been coming here.
Rick Sutcliffe couldn't change it with a scrappy, desperate performance on the mound. Cal Ripken could not change it with a dramatic three-run homer. Gregg Olson could not change it either, but then, he never has had much luck north of the border.
The Toronto Blue Jays always seem to find a way to beat the Orioles here, and they did it again last night with a three-run rally in the bottom of the eighth and a 6-5 victory in the opener of the two-game series.
It happened in their last at-bat. It always does. The Blue Jays have beaten the Orioles in their last at-bat nine times in 26 games at SkyDome since the fateful final weekend of 1989. They also have done it a few times in Baltimore. So who should have been surprised?
Ripken, who returned home Sunday to be present at the birth of his first son, returned yesterday and hit a three-run shot off Blue Jays closer Duane Ward in the top of the eighth inning to bring the Orioles from behind. It looked as if his 15th homer might save Sutcliffe from another winless July, but the Blue Jays came back against three Orioles pitchers to spoil a perfect human interest angle.
Sutcliffe pitched 7 1/3 innings and gave up three runs on seven hits before turning a two-run lead over to reliever Mark Williamson with a runner on first and one out in the eighth. Williamson immediately gave up a single to Joe Carter. Reliever Jim Poole came on to give up a base-loading single to John Olerud. Olson struck out Tony Fernandez, but gave up a game-tying two-run double to Ed Sprague.
Pat Borders brought home the game-winner, beating out an infield hit to make Ward a winner on a rare night when he could not convert a save opportunity.
Poole threw only one pitch and took the loss. Olson suffered his second blown save in a row and his fifth in 31 save opportunities this year.
"It was just a bad pitch on Sprague and he took advantage of it," Olson said. "That's the downfall of my job. I make one bad pitch and I'm going to get beat."
Ward almost gave it up again in the ninth, when Harold Reynolds walked and Tim Hulett singled to put runners at first and third with one out. But Brady Anderson popped out and Mark McLemore struck out to end the game.
"Everybody battled tonight," said Sutcliffe, who hasn't won since June 23. "Two of the best closers in baseball [Olson and Ward] came in and couldn't stop it. It just shows what kind of talent DTC there is on both teams. It's going to go right down to the end."
The loss dropped the Orioles 2 1/2 games out of first place going into tonight's series finale, which pits streaking left-hander Fernando Valenzuela against Orioles-stopper Todd Stottlemyre.
The five-way logjam at the top of the American League East standings has forced the opposing managers to get into a stretch-drive frame of mind a little earlier than usual. This two-game series isn't going to decide anything, but no one would discount the importance of any series involving two of the top teams in the division.
"I don't think it's too early to get too intense about any series," said Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston, "but it's not the end of the world if you don't win either game."
Orioles manager Johnny Oates has been dismissing questions about the standings for weeks, but he seemed to view this series as the start of the pennant stretch.
"It's a long ride," he said, "and it's time to get it going. We can't afford too many slip-ups now."
This kind of situation was made for Sutcliffe, but he came into the game in the midst of another midsummer slump. He had not won any of his previous five starts and had been knocked around early in three of his last four. The Blue Jays wasted no time picking up on that trend.
Sutcliffe gave up two runs in the first inning, on a one-out double by Roberto Alomar and a two-run home run by designated hitter Paul Molitor. Toronto added another run in the third on a two-out RBI double by Carter.
"I don't know what it is in the first inning," Sutcliffe said. "Sometimes, it seems like I've never pitched before. But hopefully, this is something to build on and now I can start doing what I'm supposed to do for this ballclub."
Blue Jays starter Jack Morris has been struggling, too. He came into the game with a 5-10 record and a 7.19 ERA, but looked more like his old self in this big-game situation. He struck out four in the first three innings before the Orioles got back in the game with two runs in the fourth.
Harold Baines delivered both with his eighth home run of the year, a towering shot to center field that traveled an estimated 428 feet before landing in the stands.
"I thought both guys threw well," Oates said. "Both were throwing their off-speed stuff in the strike zone and mixing it up. You can't ask for more than they both did."
The polite SkyDome crowd made little of the two-week All-Star controversy, but the Orioles did not get through the evening without inviting the wrath of the fans.
First baseman David Segui was booed heavily during an animated argument with umpire Chuck Meriwether and Sutcliffe was the object of a derisive chant from the upper deck during the middle innings.
Segui went ballistic after he was called out on a close play in the second. He had to be restrained by first-base coach Davey Lopes, but still managed to spike his helmet at the feet of Meriwether and draw his second ejection of the season.
The play was questionable, but it was not worth the effort or the ejection. Segui hit a two-out ground ball to the right of second and thought he was safe when a throw by Alomar appeared to pull a covering Morris off the bag. The fans booed lustily as Segui left the field and manager Johnny Oates took up the argument, but theplay was too close to call even with a video replay.