No longer in position to digest the whole pie, the Orioles settled for a few crumbs last night. And they tasted best to Fernando Valenzuela.
The veteran left-hander might have been making his final appearance for the Orioles, and he did it on a high note. The 50th consecutive sellout at Camden Yards (45,881) gave him a standing ovation that resulted in one of the few curtain calls of the year.
Valenzuela (8-10) scattered eight hits over 6 2/3 innings as the Orioles registered a 7-2 win over the American League East champion Toronto Blue Jays. In the process, the Orioles broke a five-season losing streak against right-hander Todd Stottlemyre.
"It was good to finish [the season] this way," Valenzuela said after recording only the second win in his past 13 starts. "I was happy about tonight's game.
"The fans were great, not only tonight, but the whole season. It's hard to think about your reaction [to the curtain call], but it was real nice, a great feeling."
Before last night, Stottlemyre (11-12) had an 8-0 record and a 2.11 ERA in 11 appearances against the Orioles. And one of his two no-decisions was the 2-1, 11-inning win on the third-to-last day of the season that enabled the Blue Jays to clinch a tie for the AL East title in 1989, the year his winning streak began.
Nevertheless, Stottlemyre has never taken his success against the Orioles for granted. "I've got a tremendous amount of respect for [the Orioles]," he said. "A lot of time, I haven't had real good stuff against them, but made good pitches.
"This time my command wasn't real good, and to their credit, they put the ball in play. I got my work in, and I didn't waste a good one [start]."
The Orioles hardly beat Stottlemyre into submission. They poked him, for the most part, with ground balls and soft line drives that found open spaces. With the victory, the Orioles assured themselves of no worse than a fourth-place finish on the same night the New York Yankees clinched second place.
It hardly balances the books from previous failures, but last night the Orioles did almost all of their damage against Stottlemyre. In his last tuneup before the AL playoffs, Stottlemyre gave up 10 of the Orioles' 12 hits and six of their seven runs before turning the game over to the Blue Jays' bullpen at the start of the sixth inning.
Harold Baines drove in two runs with a single and double, and Brady Anderson, Mark McLemore and Cal Ripken each had two hits and drove in a run as the Orioles won for only the second time in their past nine games. But, with the three-time AL East champions losing for only the third time in the past 19 games, the night mainly belonged to Valenzuela.
Signed last spring as a free agent after an absence of almost two years from the big leagues, Valenzuela has had periods of satisfaction and frustration with the Orioles. He started slow, went through a period when he got little run support, then was the American League Pitcher of the Month in July. Since then he has struggled, though escaping with eight no-decisions in his past 13 starts.
Through the good and bad, Valenzuela remained a darling to the fans here and around the American League. And when manager Johnny Oates went to the mound to summon reliever Todd Frohwirth in the sixth inning, the crowd took over, sensing the uncertainty of Valenzuela's situation.
The applause built slowly as the signal went to the bullpen, then built to a prolonged ovation as Valenzuela left the field. Twice he acknowledged the crowd en route to the dugout, but that was not enough. Before play was resumed, Valenzuela emerged from the dugout for a curtain call.
For the audience, it was the highlight of a game concluded with lineups that closely resembled those used during spring training games. For Valenzuela, it was an appreciated gesture, but hardly a goodbye.
"My plan is to keep pitching," he said. "This season has been a lot of ups and downs. My goal was to help the team, and I think I could have done better.
"My plan now is to spend some time with my family, and then start working to get ready to pitch next year."
His future with the Orioles is as uncertain as that of some of his teammates, but Valenzuela obviously isn't satisfied with a one-year comeback.
He's counting on pitching, somewhere, again next year.
Orioles-Blue Jays scoring
Orioles first: Safe at second on shortstop Fernandez's fielding error. Schofield to shortstop for Fernandez. McLemore singled to left center, Anderson scored; on throw home, McLemore to second. Ripken popped out to shortstop Schofield. Baines struck out. Pagliarulo flied out to left fielder Henderson. 1 run, 1 hit, 1 error, 1 left on. Orioles 1, Blue Jays 0.
Blue Jays third: Griffin singled to left. Henderson singled to center, Griffin to third. White hit sacrifice fly to left fielder Voigt, Griffin scored. Molitor walked, Henderson to second. Carter fouled out to catcher Parent. Olerud flied out to left fielder Voigt. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Blue Jays 1, Orioles 1.
Orioles third: McLemore singled to pitcher. Ripken singled to right center, McLemore to second. Baines singled to right, McLemore scored, Ripken to third. Pagliarulo grounded into fielder's choice, first baseman Olerud to shortstop Schofield, Ripken scored, Baines forced at second. Voigt singled to left, Pagliarulo to second. Carey grounded into double play, second baseman Griffin to shortstop Schofield to first baseman Olerud, Voigt out. 2 runs, 4 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Orioles 3, Blue Jays 1.
Orioles fourth: Reynolds singled to right. Parent sacrificed, pitcher Stottlemyre to second baseman Griffin, Reynolds to second. Anderson singled to center, Reynolds scored. Anderson stole second. McLemore flied out to center fielder White. Ripken singled to shortstop , Anderson scored. Baines lined out to second baseman Griffin. 2 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Orioles 5, Blue Jays 1.
Orioles fifth: Pagliarulo grounded out to first baseman Olerud. Voigt walked. Carey struck out. Voigt stole second. Reynolds walked. Parent singled to center, Voigt scored, Reynolds to third. Anderson grounded into fielder's choice, shortstop Schofield to second baseman Griffin, Parent forced at second. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 2 left on. Orioles 6, Blue Jays 1 .
Blue Jays seventh: Buford to left field, batting 2nd. Voigt to right field, batting 6th. Butler struck out. T.Ward doubled past third. Molitor singled to left, T.Ward to third. Canate hit sacrifice fly to right fielder Voigt, T.Ward scored. Olerud singled to center, Molitor to second. Frohwirth relieved Valenzuela. Schofield flied out to right fielder Voigt. 1 run, 3 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Orioles 6, Blue Jays 2.
Orioles eighth: Flener pitching. Anderson singled to right. Buford struck out. Ripken popped out to shortstop Schofield. Baines doubled to center, Anderson scored. Alexander ran for Baines. Pagliarulo grounded out to first baseman Olerud, pitcher Flener covering. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Orioles 7, Blue Jays 2.
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Blue Jays starter: Pat Hentgen (19-8, 3.77)
Orioles starter: Rick Sutcliffe (9-10, 5.82)
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)
Tickets: Scattered singles remain, not including 275 standing-room tickets that go on sale when the gates open.