Matched up against the division-leading New York Yankees seven times over an 11-day span that ends today, the Blue Jays have won three of the first six games -- including a 3-1 victory yesterday at SkyDome -- and are one of the main reasons the showdown series between the Yankees and Orioles that begins tomorrow night in New York is so meaningful.
The Orioles have taken advantage of those three victories to gain ground on the Yankees. They could pick up some more today if they beat the Milwaukee Brewers in a makeup game at Camden Yards and the Blue Jays can salvage a split of the four-game set in Toronto.
Don't thank longtime Orioles nemesis Cito Gaston for all the help just yet. The Blue Jays will have an opportunity to prove
that they are equal-opportunity spoilers later this month when they play seven games in 10 days against the Orioles, closing out the regular season with a four-game series at SkyDome.
Everybody likes to beat the Yankees, but the Blue Jays figure to take even more pleasure in sinking the Orioles. Gaston hasn't forgotten the way he was pilloried in Baltimore for failing to get Mike Mussina into the 1993 All-Star Game, and the Blue Jays front office would not relish the thought of Pat Gillick and Roberto Alomar celebrating a division title in the visitors' clubhouse.
It's not over till
They gained three games in three days and carry a four-game winning streak into the four-game series against the Rangers that begins tonight at the Kingdome.
Imagine it. If the Mariners sweep the series, they would close to within two games of the Rangers and be within realistic range of completing a comeback even more dramatic than the run they made against the California Angels last year.
Don't bet on it. The Rangers have more of everything than the Angels did a year ago, but the "refuse to lose" attitude of the Mariners and their fans will make it tough to play in the Kingdome.
The Atlanta Braves ended their longest losing streak in six years yesterday with a 3-2 victory over the New York Mets that pushed their National League East lead back to 5 1/2 games over the surprisingly resilient Montreal Expos.
"I don't remember how to shake hands anymore," said Braves manager Bobby Cox with a laugh afterward.
The Expos, who ended a four-game winning streak yesterday, will have their fate in their own hands, with eight of their last 11 games against the Braves, but they can't be looking forward to the five-game series that begins in muggy Atlanta on Thursday night.
Wild, wild NL West
The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres are locked in an NL West race that could come down to the same kind of finish that put the AL West in the spotlight at the end of the 1995 season.
They play head-to-head seven times in the last 10 days of the season. And, if the division still isn't decided, they could go one more time the next Monday. There will be a one-game playoff only if another wild-card competitor has a better record than both teams, which would set up a go-on-or-go-home situation like the one that determined the AL West title last year.
The way the Expos are playing, that is a very real possibility.
Sign No. 1 that the Yankees are going to hold on to win the AL East title: Right-hander David Cone comes back from months on the disabled list to throw seven no-hit innings in his first start and also pitches well in his next two appearances.
Sign No. 2 that the Yankees are going to hold on: Rookie outfielder Ruben Rivera makes a terrific diving catch to save Tuesday's game against the Detroit Tigers and prevent the Orioles from cutting their division deficit to 1 1/2 games.
Sign No. 3: Cy Young Award candidate Andy Pettitte takes a line drive off the knee in the early innings of Friday night's game at Toronto. He appears badly hurt, but picks himself up to retire nine of the next 10 batters on the way to his 21st victory of the season.
Slump's over. The Yankees have won five of their past six games and will go into their big series with the Orioles on the short end of the pressure gauge. The Orioles know they have to win the series.
Bring out your best
The Orioles can look at the series against the Yankees as a preview of the postseason. They'll have their top three starters lined up -- Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson and David Wells -- and they'll be playing against one of the teams they likely will have to beat in the postseason if they hope to reach the World Series. Depending on how they hold up, manager Davey Johnson is going to be tempted to go with just three starters during the divisional series, if the Orioles get there.
The Yankees will send Cone in the first game and Pettitte in the second, which is as stiff a test as the Orioles figure to face in any first-round playoff configuration.
Down the stretch
Date .. ..O's .. .. .Yanks .. ....W. Sox
9/16 .. ..Milw. .. . .Tor. .. .. ...Cle.
9/17 .. ..N.Y. .. .. .O's .. .. .. .Cle.
9/18 .. ..N.Y. .. .. .O's .. .. .. .Cle.
9/19 .. ..N.Y. .. .. .O's .. .. ...Minn.
9/20 .. ..Tor. .. .. .Bos. .. .. ..Minn.
9/21 .. ..Tor. .. .. .Bos. .. .. ..Minn.
9/22 .. ..Tor. .. .. .Bos. (2) .. .Minn.
9/24 .. ..Bos. .. .. .Milw. .. .. ..K.C.
9/25 .. ..Bos. .. .. .Milw. .. .. ..K.C.
9/26 .. ..Tor. .. .. .Bos.
9/27 .. ..Tor. .. .. .Bos. .. .. ..Minn.
9/28 .. ..Tor. .. .. .Bos. .. .. ..Minn.
9/29 .. ..Tor. .. .. .Bos. .. .. ..Minn.
Home games in bold
Pub Date: 9/16/96