TORONTO -- No guarantees are attached to a Jose Mercedes start. No guarantee that he'll pitch deep into the game, or get another chance to take the ball. Orioles manager Mike Hargrove insists that Mercedes isn't auditioning each time his turn comes around, but he's not exactly blanketed in security.
It's not even certain when he'll pitch again because the Orioles have a day off coming up later this week. But for now, he's the only member of their rotation with a winning record. The only member with two victories since the break.
That much is guaranteed.
Mercedes went seven innings for the second consecutive start, leaving the game only because of a blister on his right hand. Once banished to the bullpen, he maintained control of the Toronto Blue Jays and confirmed that the Canadian hex no longer existed in the Orioles' 8-2 victory before 27,585 at SkyDome.
The victory was their third in a row, and the second in Toronto after 14 consecutive losses. Once victims of 20 straight defeats in Canada, the Orioles no longer will dread going through customs.
Yesterday's ambushing of Esteban Loaiza (5-7) and reliever Chris Carpenter allowed the Orioles (43-53) to get within 10 games of .500 for the first time since the end of the first half July 9 and continued an offensive revival. They've scored 33 runs in four games since being shut out by the Florida Marlins' Jesus Sanchez on Tuesday. They had 13 more hits yesterday, giving them 54 during that span.
No matter what happens today, the Orioles are assured of winning their fifth road series in 17 opportunities. They can gain a sweep if Mike Mussina's luck and run support change.
Mercedes (5-4) didn't need a whole lot of help, but he graciously accepted it. He shut out the Blue Jays until one out in the sixth, when Brad Fullmer reached the second deck with his 18th home run. Toronto has homered in 21 straight games at SkyDome, tying the club record and coming within two of the American League mark.
"I'd say that was my only mistake since that was their only run," said Mercedes, who allowed seven hits and walked one.
"I was trying not to overthrow the ball, just trying to stay on top of my sinker."
Keeping the ball on the ground can be dangerous on an artificial surface, but Mercedes made it work. Only two of the outs he recorded through six innings reached the outfield, both coming in the fourth inning. There were 10 grounders, two line drives, two strikeouts and one pop-up.
He got through the seventh with little difficulty, getting two fly balls and a grounder to short. He had thrown 98 pitches by the time Hargrove went to the bullpen.
Jason Johnson has been putting up good numbers at Triple-A Rochester. Left-hander John Parrish, called up last week, is viewed by club officials as a starter and soon will get that chance. Should Mercedes be looking over his shoulder?
"He's in the rotation," Hargrove said firmly. "I don't want to project further out. I don't know how well Jose's going to continue pitching. If he continues pitching well, obviously he's going to stay in the rotation. He's given us two very good starts in a row.
"I think Jose's been around enough to realize there are things he can control and things he can't control and it doesn't do any good to worry about them. Just worry about the things you have in front of you."
Mercedes, 29, who spent five years with Milwaukee, said he doesn't fret over his role. He prefers starting because he finds it easier to prepare, but won't burden himself with concerns.
"I don't have that in my mind at all," he said. "I just want to be successful and help the team win."
Albert Belle staked the Orioles to a 1-0 lead in the first inning when he doubled to right-center field with two outs to score Mike Bordick, who had walked. Belle remains without a homer since June 29, but has an RBI in 16 of his last 23 games. He's 13-for-29 with six RBIs over his last seven games.
The Orioles were seeing Loaiza for the fourth time this season, the only difference yesterday being the uniform. His first three starts came with the Texas Rangers, who traded him on Wednesday. He had allowed seven earned runs in 20 1/3 innings against the Orioles, going 1-1 with a no decision.
They nearly drove him from the game in the third inning yesterday, scoring three times to build a 5-0 lead.
Two of the runs came across when B. J. Surhoff grounded to first baseman Carlos Delgado, who tried to cut down Bordick at the plate. His throw, which wouldn't have been in time, sailed over catcher Alberto Castillo's head, allowing Belle to score. Charles Johnson doubled with two outs to bring in Surhoff. He barely missed a home run, with the ball hitting the top of the fence.
The Orioles also had reached Loaiza in the second inning. Will Clark singled, Harold Baines doubled with one out and rookie Ivanon Coffie picked up his second RBI of the series with a grounder to Delgado.
Clark also singled in the fifth inning, making him 11-for-21 against the Blue Jays this season, after Delino DeShields had reached on an infield hit, stole second and scored on Surhoff's single into left field.
Loaiza was gone after the fifth with his deficit 6-1, his pitch count up to 99 and his chances of being spared a loss practically nonexistent because of Mercedes.
Carpenter replaced him and retired eight in a row before a two-out single by Baines in the eighth. Baines is 6-for-9 in the series and 16-for-35 in July. His average, once stuck at .217, has risen to .276.
"I haven't changed anything all year. I'm just starting to get some breaks," he said.
Baines moved to third on a double by Coffie that ricocheted off first base, and both players scored when Brady Anderson dumped a single in front of left fielder Shannon Stewart. With an 8-1 lead, Hargrove called upon Alan Mills and Chuck McElroy to finish up the club's fifth win in seven games.
"We're swinging the bats well and getting some breaks," Hargrove said. "We're putting the ball in play hard enough to get it past people."
Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays
Site: SkyDome, Toronto
Time: 1:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (6-9, 3.82) vs. Blue Jays' Frank Castillo (6-5, 4.17)
Jose Mercedes' fourth and fifth starts were short-lived, but he's flourished his last two:
Date .....Opp..... IP............H ....ER ....Res
4/27 .....Chi ....1 2/3 .........5 .....4.....L 13-4
7/8 ......Phil ......3 ............6......6.....L 13-4
7/17 .....Fla ......7 ............7 .....3 .....W 5-3
7/22 .....Tor .....7 .............7 .....1 ....W 8-2