TORONTO - Just when the Orioles were starting to feel good about themselves, just when they started to entertain thoughts about climbing into the wild-card race, an old familiar face was there to keep them humble yesterday.
Josh Towers, who has been through his share of ups and downs since his impressive rookie year with the Orioles in 2001, is still honing his craft for the Toronto Blue Jays.
And every time the Orioles come up here to visit him, he manages to rub it in their faces.
Showing the pinpoint control that has helped him stay in the big leagues despite a fastball that rarely hits 90 mph, Towers stymied the Orioles for 6 2/3 innings, as the Blue Jays rolled to a 7-2 victory at SkyDome.
The game took on the feel of a skipping record. Toronto hit a leadoff double against Orioles starter Dave Borkowski in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings - and managed to score every time.
The Orioles got a two-out RBI single from Larry Bigbie in the second inning and a two-out RBI double by Brian Roberts in the seventh, but that was it, as they lost for just the second time in 12 games.
"I pretty much [stunk] today from the get go," said Borkowski, who was lifted after Orlando Hudson hit his leadoff double in the fifth inning.
Meantime, watching Towers do his thing, one could barely tell he was facing one of the hottest teams in baseball and an offense that came in tied with the Cleveland Indians for the American League lead in hitting.
Towers (8-4) held the Orioles to two runs on six hits, winning for the sixth time in seven starts.
"I don't want to sound conceited," Towers said, "but I don't have great stuff. I have pretty good stuff that I can control. And I know how to pitch."
Towers, 27, was one of the most colorful characters on the Orioles' roster in 2001, when he became an overnight success, going from non-prospect to American League Rookie of the Month for June.
The Orioles handed him the No. 4 spot in their starting rotation the following spring, but he went 0-12 that year between the big leagues and Triple-A. Towers later said he would have pitched better in 2002, were it not for persistent pain in his forearm.
But the Orioles, under former vice president Syd Thrift, granted him free agency that fall without giving him a phone call, and after he latched on with the Blue Jays, he continued to fume.
Last September, he got his first chance to face the Orioles here at SkyDome, and finished with a career-high nine strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings of a 4-2 victory.
He ripped his former club that night, but this time, standing at a different locker in the Blue Jays' clubhouse, he was more reserved.
"That was more for the organizational people after getting released for no reason," Towers said. "This was just a ballgame I was trying to win."
In 28 career games with the Blue Jays, including 22 starts, Towers has quietly posted a 16-5 record.
Still, he hasn't been consistent for an entire season. So after starting the year on the Blue Jays' roster, he posted a 7.27 ERA and got sent down to Triple-A Syracuse. The Orioles pasted him for seven runs (four earned) in four innings in an 11-3 win at Camden Yards on April 23.
Since his return from the minors, he's gone 8-2 with a 3.10 ERA.
"You always like to try to get him because you know how Josh is," Bigbie said. "He throws a lot of strikes, but at the same time, he wants you to get yourself out. So he's not going to give you too much of the plate, especially when there's a runner in scoring position."
When Bigbie delivered his two-out single to right field in the second inning, scoring Javy Lopez from second, it marked a rare event. This season, with two outs and runners in scoring position, Bigbie is batting just .159 (7-for-44).
His clutch hit was another sign of how well things have been going for the Orioles.
Roberts made a pair of spectacular defensive plays behind Borkowski, starting a double play to end the second inning and robbing Eric Hinske of a hit to end the third. For a while, it looked like the Orioles might hang in for another victory.
"The defense made some great plays for [Borkowski]," said manager Lee Mazzilli, whose Orioles fell eight games behind Boston in the wild-card chase. "It seemed like he was fighting himself to get the ball down."
Trailing 3-1, Mazzilli replaced Borkowski (3-3) with John Parrish in the fifth inning. But the Blue Jays pulled away with two runs that inning, as Hinske hit a two-out RBI single, and Parrish fired a wild pitch, allowing Carlos Delgado to score Toronto's fifth run.
When Towers came out, the Orioles didn't manage another hit, as Justin Speier turned in 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, and Kerry Ligtenberg, another former Oriole, retired the side in the ninth.
After getting in late from Anaheim, Calif., the night before, the Orioles managed a 4-0 win here Friday, and Mazzilli agreed they looked a little flat yesterday.
"The travel might have caught up to them the second day," he said. "But that's part of the game."
Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays
Site: SkyDome, Toronto
Time: 1:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Daniel Cabrera (9-5, 3.71) vs. Blue Jays' Dave Bush (1-3, 3.59)