So much for wild-card fever.
Coming off a series win over the New York Yankees and the possibility of taking a step ahead within their division, the Orioles instead suffered one of their most complete beatings of the season last night against the light-hitting Toronto Blue Jays.
At least it's rumored the Blue Jays are offensive marshmallows. And statistics apparently confirm it -- they are last in the league in hitting.
But in a 13-6 thrashing before 47,374 at Camden Yards, Orioles pitching again made a strong argument against conventional wisdom as the Blue Jays mashed a season-high 18 hits and coasted after taking a 7-0 lead.
"Everybody wants to beat us. Everybody raises their game against us. We're the measuring stick," said disgusted right fielder Eric Davis. "We're the defending division champions. They're raising the level of their game. We just haven't responded to the challenge. We win two out of three from the Yankees and they come in here and we give up 13 runs. That puts a lot of pressure on your offense. Lots."
In baseball, starting pitching represents the soul of momentum. Small wonder the Orioles have two three-game win streaks since April 14.
"Streaks start and end with pitching. There's no two ways about it. I'm a firm believer that you win with pitching," Davis said.
Last night's barrage raised the Orioles' team ERA to 5.33, fourth-highest in the American League. They fell to 34-38 overall, 6-13 in the American League East, and are now tied with the Minnesota Twins, 9 1/2 games behind wild-card leader Boston.
The Orioles again trailed before their first at-bat. Their bullpen allowed eight earned runs in 4 1/3 innings. The Blue Jays scored early on a wild pitch, a passed ball and stole three bases in the first five innings. At one point the Orioles were outhit 11-1. Suspense took the rest of the night off.
The Orioles have been outscored 154-109 in the first three innings this season. They are only 10-27 when scored upon first. Last night, Blue Jays starter Chris Carpenter (3-2) limited them to one single through five innings while his lineup roughed up Orioles fifth starter Doug Johns (2-2) for five runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings.
"We look up and we're down 5-0 and 7-1. You don't exactly have to focus when you pitch with that many runs," said Davis. "It's hard to work an offense in that situation. It's hard to play that way. We've had to do that a lot."
Summed up Carpenter, driven from last Saturday's game after nine pitches when Rafael Palmeiro lined a ball off a knuckle on his right hand, "They're an aggressive team with a lot of good hitters, and I knew if I got ahead in the count they would swing at pitches."
Observed Orioles manager Ray Miller: "He threw 94 and 95. He came right at us. He was geared up and throwing. We were swinging. He was jamming people, getting ground balls. I don't think we were flat. I think when your starter gives up a couple runs and they start stealing bases I don't blame it on [catcher Chris] Hoiles. Johns didn't really give him a chance."
Johns, pitching in place of Doug Drabek, who has an injured chest muscle, made his first start since June 8 and lacked precision. Four of five leadoff hitters reached against him and he appeared to abandon the unpredictable array of off-speed pitches that carried him as recently as June 3 in Boston, when he carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning en route to a 3-0 win.
"He gave up eight hits, seven on fastballs, and they stole three bases on him," Miller said. "Our middle relief really let us down. It's been a sore spot for us as well as well as everybody else, I guess, all year."
Designated Harold Baines enjoyed a quiet four-RBI game. He brought the Orioles within 7-2 in the sixth inning and added two more RBIs in the eighth. The Orioles produced 12 hits after the fifth inning.
But by then it was too late.
Last night marked the third time in four games they have allowed the Blue Jays' first-inning runs. It hasn't stopped there.
The Blue Jays have hit .256 against the league. Against the Orioles, they have run up a .376 average, 34 runs and 56 hits, including 22 for extra bases, in four games. Orioles pitching has suffered a corresponding 8.74 ERA.
At least the Orioles can look forward tonight to Roger Clemens.
Shannon Stewart, Shawn Green and Alex Gonzalez had three hits apiece as the Orioles allowed a season-high number of hits.
Gonzalez, the Jays' No. 9 hitter, fell a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. Right fielder Jose Canseco was the only Blue Jays starter not to hit safely, but satisfied himself with becoming the majors' first 20-20 player. Canseco hit his 20th home run against the Orioles last Saturday in Toronto and achieved his 20th stolen base in last night's third inning.
The loss marked the ninth time this season the Orioles have allowed 10 runs or more. They did so 12 times all last season.
Statistically the league's best defense, the Orioles also fumbled a chance to tie a 7-year-old franchise record for consecutive error-free games when third baseman Cal Ripken was charged with a seventh-inning miscue on Stewart's grounder. It was the Orioles' first error since June 4 and only their second in 24 games.
When Carpenter wilted, the Orioles jumped him for empty runs. After going 1-for-16 against him through five innings, they were 8-for-13 against Carpenter before Jays manager Tim Johnson rescued him before he could get an out in the eighth.
The night's most historical moment waited until the ninth inning when Dave Stieb made his first major-league appearance since retiring in 1993. Stieb, 40, allowed three hits but left the bases loaded.
Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 7: 35
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Blue Jays' Roger Clemens (7-6, 3.47) vs. O's Pete Smith (0-1, 11.57)
Tickets: 1,200 remain
Red-hot Blue Jays
The Blue Jays have the lowest team batting average (.256) in the American League, but it's hard to tell by the way they've JTC battered Orioles pitching in winning three of four games between the teams this season.
Date .. ..Res. .. .. ... H .. .. R .. .. BB .. .. SB
6/12 .. ..L, 9-5 .. .. .14 .. .. 5 .. .. .3 .. ... 0
6/13 .. ..W 9-8 .. .. ..12 .. .. 9 .. .. .3 .. ... 3
6/14 .. ..W 7-4 .. .. ..12 .. .. 7 .. .. .6 .. ... 2
6/18 .. ..W 13-6 . .. ..18 .. ..13 .. .. .4 .. ... 3
Totals .. 3-1 .. .. .. .56 .. ..34 .. .. 16 .. ... 8
Pub Date: 6/19/98