Last night sealed it again. The Orioles, who had sole possession of third place over a span of nearly 120 games this season, lost all hope of finishing that way.
Carlos Delgado and Vernon Wells combined to drive in nine runs, and the Toronto Blue Jays secured another third-place finish by crushing the Orioles, 11-1, at SkyDome.
This is the first time in major- league history that a division or league has finished in the same order for five consecutive years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
For the Orioles, it was but another painful reminder of how far they have fallen since Aug. 23, when they had a .500 record and a 10-game lead over the Blue Jays.
"Without coming out and talking about it at the time, I think everybody had the idea in mind that [third] would be a nice place to finish," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "And it just didn't happen."
Since Aug. 23, which is becoming a red-letter date in Baltimore, the Blue Jays have gained 16 games on the Orioles, who have lost seven in a row and 27 of their past 31.
Playing at a .129 clip, it's little wonder they've lost all that ground on Toronto in a little more than a month. The Blue Jays have exacerbated this development, going 20-11 during the same stretch.
But as last night showed, this young Toronto team packs some punch.
Delgado had two home runs and five RBIs, giving him 31 homers and 102 RBIs for the season. Wells hit his 22nd home run and drove in four runs, with most of this damage coming against Orioles rookie Sean Douglass.
"You can take out their middle hitters, and their lineup is still deep," Douglass said. "Even if you take out Wells and Delgado and [Josh] Phelps, they've got a great leadoff hitter [Shannon Stewart], and [Eric] Hinske, too, and [Jose] Cruz. You could just go on and on.
"But if you make your pitches and keep the ball down, you can pitch to any team and get them out. I just got the ball up and didn't make the pitches I needed to."
Douglass (0-5) wasn't sharp, but he would have had to be spectacular last night to get that elusive first victory. Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay (18-7) held the Orioles to one run on four hits over seven innings.
The Orioles didn't have to face Toronto until July 17, so this has all hit them pretty fast. The Blue Jays now lead the season series 13-4.
Halladay, alone, is 4-0 against the Orioles with a 0.93 ERA.
Like many games during the Orioles' monthlong skid, this one started with promise. The Orioles grabbed a third-inning lead, doing the little things well.
Brook Fordyce and Mike Bordick hit back-to-back singles, and Jerry Hairston moved the runners up with a sacrifice bunt. Fordyce scored on a grounder to second by Chris Singleton.
The Orioles had arrived at their downtown Toronto hotel at 4 a.m., after losing a 15-inning marathon against Boston on Monday night at Camden Yards.
"It started out pretty good," Fordyce said, "and it turned out to be a fiasco."
Douglass ran into problems after walking Stewart and Hinske in the third inning. With two outs, he left a 2-1 fastball over the plate for Delgado, who deposited the pitch into the center-field seats.
It was a milestone moment. Delgado has gone six straight seasons with 30 home runs and five straight seasons with 100 RBIs. No other Blue Jay can claim such a feat.
And Delgado wasn't finished. After Wells increased Toronto's lead to 5-2 with a two-run single in the fifth inning, Delgado hit a two-run homer into the center-field seats.
Toronto added four runs off Orioles reliever Travis Driskill, as Cruz hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning and Wells added a two-run homer in the eighth.
"They're young and talented," Driskill said. "They get themselves into favorable hitting counts, and for a young team, they're not striking out that often, either."
2 lost years
Last night's defeat gave the Orioles back-to-back seasons with at least 90 losses for only the third time in franchise history. A look at the most losses over a two-year span in Orioles history:
Years Losses Yr. 1-Yr. 2
1987-1988 202 95-107
1954-1955 197 100-97
2001-2002 *188 98-90
2000-2001 186 88-98
1986-1987 184 89-95
*-With five games to go in 2002
Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays
Site: SkyDome, Toronto
TV/Radio: CSN/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Rodrigo Lopez (15-8, 3.56) vs. Blue Jays' Mark Hendrickson (2-0, 3.03)