Rookie Larry Sheets shook his head in the solemn Baltimore Orioles locker room and pictured the near-home run by Cal Ripken, the one that fell inches short with two out in the 10th inning and left the home team miserable for the night.

"I thought it was gone," Sheets said. "But it just died. That ball was just like the way the season has been -- just that much short again."

Toronto beat the Orioles, 4-3, before 41,599 in Memorial Stadium tonight, not just because Ripken's apparent homer was caught at the very top of the wall in left center, but also because Damaso Garcia's 10th-inning homer off Mike Boddicker broke a tie that had existed for five innings.

The Blue Jays won their ninth straight and increased their lead over fifth-place Baltimore in the American League East to 11 1/2 games.

Strangely enough, everybody in the park thought Ripken's ball would be a two-run, game-winning homer, but not even Garcia thought his ball would fly over the wall in left.

"I didn't know I hit it out," Garcia said. "I saw it and I hit it."

It was the third time this season that Boddicker (10-11) lost a complete game in the ninth or 10th inning. He was in the clubhouse watching the game on television when Ripken batted.

"I thought it was gone," Boddicker said, expressing a common sentiment. And it wasn't just an Oriole experiencing wishful thinking.

Even Jesse Barfield, Toronto's center fielder, thought Baltimore had won.

"At first, I thought the ball was out," Barfield said. "I was playing pretty deep and I had plenty of time to go to the fence. That's why it looked routine when I caught the ball. He hit it good, that's for sure."

Ripken said, "I thought at the time I hit it good enough to get it out. But looking back on it, I know I just got it too far out on the end of the bat and it didn't carry as well as it should have."

Garcia's homer and Ripken's dramatic final out probably will overshadow a classic ball game that included: a third consecutive three-hit game for the Orioles' Floyd Rayford; a 3-0 lead for the Blue Jays in the second inning; a third-inning ejection of Baltimore's Lee Lacy for arguing a check-swing strike three, and the two final innings of relief by Toronto's Tom Henke (1-0), who made his first appearance of the season after being called up from the minor leagues.

Cox called on Henke instead of established relievers Bill Caudill or Gary Lavelle. "Why did I bring in Henke?" Cox asked rhetorically. "I wanted to see him pitch. I didn't want to use Caudill in a tied game."

Henke, who had allowed 13 hits in 51 innings this season (earned run average of 0.87) at Class AAA Syracuse, looked as if he had made a pretty smooth transition to the big leagues -- except for Ripken's shot.

In the eighth, he came on for starter Jimmy Key, who had thrown 124 pitches. Henke got pinch hitter Jim Dwyer out on a grounder in front of the plate, Mike Young on an infield pop up and Rayford on a wicked sidearm pitch that produced a called third strike.

"He threw a changeup or two, but mostly good, hard fast balls," said Sheets, who had walked with one out in the 10th and was on base when Ripken batted.

Henke struck out pinch hitter Wayne Gross to start the 10th, got John Shelby -- Lacy's replacement -- to pop up, then barely got Ripken.

"It's pretty frustrating," said Boddicker, who lost a 2-1 game in the ninth two weeks ago because he allowed a two-run homer to Minnesota's Tom Brunansky. Boddicker also lost a game in late May to Oakaland, 3-2, in the 10th when he walked in the losing run.

"I'm not too good in 10th innings," he said, managing a slight smile. "Actually, I didn't make that many bad pitches tonight. In general, I thought I pitched a pretty good ball game. I had a pretty good ratio of strikes to balls and I stayed away from a real big inning."

But the second was big enough for Toronto. After Al Oliver singled, Willie Upshaw hit a curve ball from Boddicker over the center field wall, giving the Blue Jays a 2-0 lead. The next batter, Ernie Whitt, hit another homer for 3-0.

The Orioles caught up by getting runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings. Rayford doubled in the third and wound up limping home on a passed ball. Fred Lynn hit his 17th homer of the season in the fourth and Rayford took his batting average to .333 by hitting his fourth homer, which tied the score, 3-3, in the fifth.

Still, the net result was the Orioles' seventh loss in eight extra-inning games this season. And it's one more game they have to make up if they're going to get back in the division race.

"When you drop the first one to Toronto, as well as they're playing, with the lead they've got, you've got to play some pretty decent ball the next three games," Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver said. "We can still pick up two games by the middle of the week but that still involves winning three straight, and we're playing a pretty good ball club."

Baltimore relief pitcher Nate Snell, who suffered a broken rib when struck by a line drive three weeks ago in a game against Minnesota, was back in uniform today and did some very light throwing before the game.

Snell (3-1, 2.12 ERA), one of the biggest surprises in the American League, would like to throw harder Tuesday, take a day off and throw harder on Thursday. However, he still is experiencing pain.

Snell said he hasn't done any exercising more strenuous than riding a stationary bicycle. He tried to jog today but said, "It was too much jarring and vibrating . . . But I know I want to come back as soon as I can."

Snell may take an outing at Class A Hagerstown on a rehabilitation assignment before coming off the disabled list.