The baseball strike didn't last quite long enough for the Baltimore Orioles. One day more, and the Orioles could have gone straight to Texas and skipped this disastrous evening before 40,104 in Exhibition Stadium.
Toronto beat the Orioles badly, twice: 7-2 in the first game, 7-4 in the second. The first night after the two-day strike ended with the Orioles 14 1/2 games behind Toronto in the American League East.
Orioles Manager Earl Weaver, not surprisingly, was near the boiling point afterward. When someone asked if he thought his club was still good, he fumed, "I believed it when I got here. I believed it for a while. But now they gotta show me. I'm not seeing too much that I like right now . . . I'll believe it again when they show me . . . "
Tonight, the Orioles showed mostly ineptitude. They collected a total of 11 hits in the two games. In the first, the Blue Jays wiped out a 2-0 deficit and scored five runs in the sixth inning, primarily off reliever Sammy Stewart, who had come in for Scott McGregor (9-9).
Half the blame goes to Baltimore's hitters, who managed just six hits in the opener, two after the second inning. Toronto starter Doyle Alexander (12-6) retired 17 of 18 in one stretch.
The second game was even messier. Reliever Ken Dixon's throwing error on a pickoff play allowed Garth Iorg to score all the way from first in Toronto's four-run fourth inning.
The ball skipped past Wayne Gross, who was playing first base in place of Eddie Murray, whose bruised foot limited him to work as the designated hitter.
And in the sixth, after Murray and Fred Lynn had hit token one-run home runs to get Baltimore within 6-4, Jesse Barfield hit what was scored a triple under shortstop Cal Ripken's glove, then scored on Tony Fernandez's squeeze bunt.
Mike Boddicker, once 6-1, has dropped to 10-13 by losing to Tom Filer (4-0), who got relief help from Tom Henke.
And the Orioles have lost five of six games to Toronto since July 29. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, have won 15 of their last 17 games.
Only the three weekend games with the forlorn Texas Rangers in Arlington might keep the Orioles from dropping below .500. Maybe.
"Everyone still has his pride," Ripken said. "Our job is still to go out and play the best we can. It's frustrating. It's hard to take these two games . . . It's pretty difficult to see the top now . . . "
For much of the season, the Orioles blamed their pitching. Now the team doesn't seem to score except via home runs. The starting pitching still isn't good. And tonight, the relief pitching was worse. Tonight's losses left the Orioles with only seven victories in 22 games against the four teams ahead of them in the AL East.
"Can you believe how bad they kicked our butts?" one player said.
Weaver also was asked what he could say or do at this point that he hasn't tried already. "Nothing can be done," Weaver said. "What we need is for everybody on the team to get on base, get to second, get to third and score.
"We need our pitchers to throw the ball by the hitters once in a while; we need for each infielder to catch a ground ball; we need for the outfielders to chase down a ball. That's what it takes."
The Orioles didn't excel at any phase of the game tonight, except hitting home runs (Larry Sheets hit one in the first game; Mike Young, Murray and Lynn in the second).
The Baltimore pitchers gave up four hits and five runs batted in to Toronto's No. 9 hitter, Fernandez. Barfield went six for six.
Yes, Toronto is very good. As Weaver said, "If they play .640 the rest of the year, it ain't gonna matter what anybody else does, anyway."
And the Orioles rarely win a game anymore when they score four runs. "We used to win 'em all," Weaver said. "If we'd won those this year, it wouldn't be a runaway."
But the Orioles haven't, and it is. Baltimore's afternoon began well enough. Murray's infield hit scored Alan Wiggins, who had singled, in the first. And a homer by Sheets in the second -- the 24th given up by Alexander this season -- made it 2-0.
McGregor struggled, but kept it close. The Blue Jays got three line-drive hits in the second but scored only one run, partly because of a base running blunder.
McGregor gave up two more hits in the third, but not a run. Toronto finally tied it in the fifth, 2-2, when Lloyd Moseby hit the ball over the right field wall with such might that it rolled about 50 yards more, into the end zone of the football field beyond.
It wasn't long thereafter, in the sixth, that the game took a dramatic turn.
McGregor retired George Bell on a deep fly to right. But when Barfield singled -- for his third hit of the game -- and Cecil Fielder walked, Weaver brought in Stewart.
Probably, Weaver quickly wished he had stayed with McGregor.
Stewart gave up a ground-rule double to pinch hitter Rance Mulliniks, one of 10 Blue Jays hitting .300 or higher with runners in scoring position. One run scored to give the Blue Jays a 3-2 lead.
With runners in scoring position, Mulliniks has 25 hits in 61 at bats (.410) with 24 runs batted in.
Weaver had Stewart intentionally walk pinch hitter Ernie Whitt, which loaded the bases.
Fernandez may be the No. 9 hitter, but he's also a .323 hitter with men in scoring position. He doubled to right for two more runs, which made it 5-2. And before Tippy Martinez could get the third out, Moseby had driven in two more runs with a double to right center.
Before the opener, Weaver appeared relieved the strike was over quickly. "It's just like a two-day rainout," he said. "That's all it is to anybody. I really didn't have that much time.
"The first day here (Monday), I went to the race track, as planned since it was an off day. The second day, which was the first day of the strike, we still had hopes until 3:30 or 3:45 that it would be avoided. And we passed the time talking about it in the lobby.
"The third day (Wednesday), Hank Peters (Baltimore's general manager) thought it was silly to sit around here, so we packed and were leaving for the airport about 11:30 a.m., only to get called back by 2:30.
"Every day, I tried to accept what was happening that day and go out and have a good dinner. Hell, it wasn't that bad sitting around for me 'cause that's what I had been doing for the last 2 1/2 years anyway -- sitting on my rump . . . I just wish I had my wife with me."
Nate Snell, the Orioles rookie reliever who suffered a broken rib July 9, was activated from the disabled list today. The Orioles' inconsistent pitching staff certainly will welcome back Snell's team-best 2.12 earned run average.
But Snell's return possibly marks the end of the Orioles tenure of veteran second baseman Lenn Sakata, who was assigned to AAA Rochester. Sakata, 32 and a six-year veteran, has 72 hours to make up his mind whether to report to Rochester or become a free agent . . .
Except for the five games Murray missed earlier this year because of a death in his family, he had played every inning of every game at first base. Sheets, normally a designated hitter against right-handed pitchers, made his major-league debut at first base in the opener