TORONTO — TORONTO -- The two-time defending world champion Toronto Blue Jays already had ample reason to feel lower than a loan shark.
Then a bizarre ninth-inning play intensified their hopelessness, stoked their fires of embarrassment, and ultimately left their manager, Cito Gaston, holed up in his office, the door closed.
The Orioles scored three runs without the aid of a hit or an RBI on the play, the final kick to the teeth for the reeling Blue Jays.
More on the play later, after a review of why the last-place Blue Jays already had reason to wish the strike went into effect two weeks ago.
Mike Mussina (11-4, 2.67) pitched a complete-game five-hitter to defeat the Blue Jays, 7-1, last night, putting the finishing touches on a three-game sweep, the Orioles' first in Toronto since 1982 and their first at SkyDome, which opened in 1989.
The Blue Jays, in the midst of their first eight-game losing streak since 1981, scored just three runs in the series and have scored eight runs against the Orioles in six games this season, all losses.
Mussina didn't do it alone last night, though he almost could have.
Center fielder Brady Anderson lent a hand with three hits, more than he had had in his 29 previous at-bats. Two of those hits were home runs off losing pitcher Todd Stottlemyre (5-5, 3.90), who used to own the Orioles.
Dwight Smith, making his second start with the Orioles, also homered against Stottlemyre.
For the most part, Stottlemyre, who struck out eight and allowed only five hits in eight innings, was sharp. He just wasn't as sharp as Mussina.
Mussina added to his strong case to become the All-Star Game starter and did it in front of Gaston, the man who will make that decision, the man who last year accused Mussina of showing him up by warming up in the bullpen.
Mussina struck out six, walked one, retired 13 of the last 14 batters he faced and faced three above the minimum 27 batters. The Blue Jays' only run was unearned.
He needed only 98 pitches to defeat the Blue Jays for the second time this season. The win kept the Orioles 3 1/2 games behind first-place New York while Toronto dropped an amazing 13 1/2 games off the pace.
Now, back to that ninth-inning play, which was just as amazing.
The Orioles loaded the bases with one out against left-hander Tony Castillo, when Jeffrey Hammonds came to the plate.
Hammonds grounded to third baseman Ed Sprague for what looked to be a routine 5-2-3 double play. Instead, the Orioles scored 1-2-3 runs on the play.
Sprague's throw to the plate hit base runner Lonnie Smith on the helmet and ricocheted up the first base line. Castillo picked it up and threw wide of catcher Pat Borders, enabling Jack Voigt to score the second run.
Sprague ran down the ball near the Jays dugout and threw to the plate in an attempt to get Mark McLemore, but Borders dropped it.
By then, Lonnie Smith was laughing. "First I was laughing because Borders threw me an elbow and I didn't see why he did that," he said. "Then I laughed because I was watching all these runs keep scoring."
Third base coach Jerry Narron didn't have time to laugh. He was busy doing something else.
"I was just trying to get out of the way," he said.
Voigt almost couldn't trust his eyes. "Lonnie got hit and I saw the ball roll away," he said. "Then I almost got hit and the ball rolled away. Then Mac almost got hit and the ball rolled away. It's almost one of those times where you're running and thinking I don't want to be the one to get thrown out."
No one did. Hammonds wound up at second and Narron was waving him to third. Enough was enough. Hammonds stayed at second.
The humiliation was complete.
Nobody could recall having seen anything quite like it.
L "Not in one concentrated area like that," Lonnie Smith said.
Said Mussina: "Not at this level and certainly not from those guys."
The Orioles outscored the Blue Jays 16-3 in the series and 11-0 in the eighth and ninth innings.
Almost lost in the hilarity of the ninth inning was Mussina's brilliant performance. Again.
The numbers suggest no starter in the American League is having a better season than Mussina.
Even if Oriole Park fans didn't get to see Mussina pitch anywhere but in the bullpen in last summer's All-Star Game, the fans of Pittsburgh figure to see plenty of him this time.
Mussina leads the league in innings pitched and ERA, and has as many wins as New York Yankees left-hander Jimmy Key and more than Seattle Mariners left-hander Randy Johnson. Kansas City right-hander David Cone is close to Mussina in every category.
Cito, your thoughts? Never mind. His door is still closed.
Mussina addressed the sensitive issue with a smile. "I'm afraid if I start he may make me pitch the whole game," Mussina said.
The defining moment of Mussina's night came in the second inning. The Blue Jays had runners on second and third and one out after John Olerud singled and took third on Mike Huff's double.
Four pitches later, the unemotional competitor was walking off the mound toward the dugout with the game still scoreless.
Mussina struck out Sprague on three pitches and Borders hit a hard come-backer on Mussina's first pitch.
The four-pitch escape, as recalled by Mussina: "Changeup, sinker, four-seam fastball in to Sprague. To Borders, a four-seam fastball away. Borders' one-hopper was hit so hard I didn't even see it. It just hit my glove."
Mussina enjoyed watching the Orioles hit in the top of the next inning as much as his teammates enjoyed watching him get out of the jam so swiftly.
Homering for the first time as an Oriole and the sixth time this season, Dwight Smith broke a scoreless tie by crushing Stottlemyre's pitch over the fence in left-center and off the lower concrete facade.
Hammonds kept it going with a one-out single and took an extra base on Anderson's single to right, which put runners on the corners for Chris Sabo. Hammonds scored when Sabo grounded out to second.
Sabo, making his first start at third base since May 6, picked up his 18th RBI in 20 games since coming off the disabled list.
It gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead, which considering Mussina was on the mound for the Orioles and the Blue Jays have not scored more than two runs in a game in a week, might as well have been a 10-0 lead.
Mussina allowed an unearned run in the third, when Domingo Cedeno led off with a line single to right and took second when Hammonds bobbled the ball. Devon White sacrificed Cedeno to third and Roberto Alomar drove him home with a fly ball to the track in left, trimming the Orioles' lead to 2-1.
Anderson's first home run of the evening, to right-center with one out in the fifth, increased the Orioles' lead to 3-1. His second of the night and ninth of the season, leading off the eighth, made it 4-1.
Opponent: Cleveland Indians
Site: Jacobs Field, Cleveland
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Ben McDonald (10-5, 4.69) vs. Indians' Charles Nagy (6-3, 3.06)