Orioles stumble out of SkyDome again Two errors in 10th hand Jays 5-4 victory


TORONTO -- It happened again. The Orioles were cruising along with a late-inning lead last night and the Toronto Blue Jays did what they always seem to do.

They came from behind and then won the game in their last at-bat, scoring a 5-4 extra-inning victory to sweep the two-game series at SkyDome and drop the Orioles 3 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East.

It was just a matter of how, and the how was almost as painful as the club's third straight defeat.

The Orioles pride themselves on their middle defense, but errors by Mike Devereaux and Cal Ripken gift-wrapped the winning run for the Blue Jays with one out in the 10th.

Paul Molitor took advantage of a bobble by Devereaux to go from first to third on a base hit by Joe Carter. He scored when a drawn-up Ripken juggled a bases-loaded grounder by Tony Fernandez and threw too late to the plate.

It all added up to another unhappy ending at SkyDome, where the Blue Jays have beaten the Orioles in their final at-bat 10 times in 29 games, dating back to the final weekend of the 1989 season.

"We're the type of ballclub that has to play fundamentally sound," manager Johnny Oates said. "We have to make the plays defensively. That's part of the game. We had the fewest errors in the league going into the game tonight. That's what we have to do to win."

Ripken had to lunge to his left to cut off the sharp two-hopper by Fernandez. The ball popped out of his glove momentarily, and that was enough time for Molitor to slide safely home ahead of the throw. The official scorer immediately charged Ripken with an error, but it was not a routine play.

"It was a hard-hit ball and I had to maneuver to get in position to get the guy at the plate," Ripken said. "I had to knock the ball down -- and Molitor is a pretty fast runner -- so it was not an easy play. It was hit hard, and with the topspin on turf, the ball comes up."

Losing pitcher Mark Williamson wasn't entirely blameless. He walked Molitor with one out and gave up the soft single to Carter, but he might have gotten out of the inning if the Orioles had played cleaner in the field.

The defense also came into question in the seventh inning, when the Blue Jays came back to make up a two-run deficit against starter Fernando Valenzuela. The rally might never have gotten off the ground if third baseman Tim Hulett had been able to come up with a hot shot off the bat of Fernandez with a runner at first and no one out.

"It wasn't a routine play," Oates said, "but we had a chance for a double play. The ball went off Timmy's glove or we might have gotten out of the inning. If he makes the play, the inning ends and we're still up 4-2." Valenzuela's recent run of luck ran a little bit short. He pitched a solid 7 2/3 innings but let a two-run lead get away in the seventh and ended up out of the decision. Nevertheless, he should be a strong contender for American League Pitcher of the Month honors for a July in which he went 3-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts.

The law of averages figured to be laying for Valenzuela, who had dominated the Blue Jays in two previous regular season starts. He had given up just two earned runs over 17 innings and pitched a six-hit shutout in his previous appearance against them, but nobody holds that lineup down forever.

He gave up four runs on seven hits and missed a chance to even his record (he remained 6-7) for the first time.

"I thought he threw the ball well again," Oates said. "He made pitches when he had to. The old saying goes, you make your own breaks sometimes. We didn't make that play at third and then their last two hits [in the seventh] were hit off the end of the bat."

The law of averages actually was working in favor of the Orioles offensive lineup. Blue Jays starter Todd Stottlemyre came into the game with an 8-0 lifetime record against Baltimore, but he didn't bring along the 1993 stats to back it up. He took the mound with a 5-7 record and a 4.63 ERA, which made him look vulnerable even to the Orioles.

They hit some balls very hard in the early innings, but didn't get on the scoreboard until Harold Baines launched a ball into the LTC center field bleachers to tie the game in the fourth. It was Baines' ninth home run of the year and his second of the series. He hit one into the same bleacher section on Tuesday night.

Baines continues to be one of the hottest hitters in the Orioles lineup. He is batting .476 with five homers and 17 RBI in his last 13 games and has raised his overall average to .331.

The Blue Jays regained the lead in the bottom of the inning when Olerud hit a two-out, bases-empty shot to right for his 20th home run and 82nd RBI of the season.

This is the first time that Olerud has hit as many as 20 homers in a season, but his power stats are not the issue this year. He continues to flirt with the possibility of becoming the first player in 52 years to carry a .400 batting average over a full season. The home run extended his current hitting streak to 15 games and kept his average at .403. But the lead didn't last an inning. Stottlemyre gave up three runs in the top of the fifth to put his unblemished record against the Orioles on four-inning notice.

Hulett started the rally with a slicing one-out double into the right field corner. Brady Anderson flied to right for the second out of the inning, but Mark McLemore drilled a run-scoring double over the head of a leaping Joe Carter in right to tie the game again.

Stottlemyre made the mistake of walking Devereaux, who had just two singles in his previous 14 at-bats, to bring up Baines, who pulled a sharp double down the right field line to bring home both runners and put Valenzuela back in control.

For a while, at least.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad