BALTIMORE, SEPT. 22 -- The season is slipping away to a sad close for the Baltimore Orioles, but Manager Cal Ripken, Sr. was intent on playing the percentages last night at Memorial Stadium. He should have played the statistics, instead.
He used five pitchers in the eighth inning. He showed little faith in one who had pitched very well for seven previous innings and in one who had been superb in 10 prior appearances. Instead, to set up lefty-righty situations, he went with three who had been human kerosene cans lately.
The result was five Toronto Blue Jays runs that helped them maintain their half-game lead over the Detroit Tigers in the American League East with an 8-4 victory.
The loss was the Orioles' fifth straight and 14th in 15th games.
George Bell drove in his major league-leading 130th run with a single that broke a 3-3 tie in the eighth-inning rally off Mark Williamson, who relieved starter Jeff Ballard.
Ballard pitched his best game of the year, allowing five hits in seven innings, but he walked Lloyd Moseby to start the eighth, was immediately pulled by Ripken and saw his record fall to 2-7.
Mike Griffin gave up run-scoring hits to Jesse Barfield and Juan Beniquez in the inning, and Tom Niedenfuer allowed Ernie Whitt a two-run double.
Jack O'Connor, who has a 1.23 ERA in his last 10 outings, relieved Williamson and faced only Willie Upshaw early in the inning. He struck him out and then was relieved by Griffin, who in turn left in favor of Niedenfuer.
Only the Oakland Athletics, who used six pitchers in one inning in a 1983 game against Cleveland, have utilized more pitchers in one inning than Baltimore used tonight.
The Orioles started the evening with a 30-47 record at Memorial Stadium, the worst home mark in the major leagues. The 47 home losses tied their club record set in 1955.
Ballard hardly seemed the pitcher to avert breaking the record until at least Wednesday's finale of the three-game series. A rookie left-hander, he entered the night 0-6 at Memorial Stadium with a 9.32 ERA. He was sharp through the first three innings, though, staying ahead of most hitters and allowing only two hits.
He was given to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a home run by Eddie Murray, which followed a walk to Cal Ripken Jr. Murray's homer, off a 1-1 pitch from rookie right-hander Jose Nunez, was well over the right field fence.
Although Murray has often been criticized for a seemingly go-with-the-flow attitude, he has been one of the few Orioles showing any spark as the team limps on.
The home run extended his hitting streak to 15 games, longest of any Oriole this year and longest progressing streak in the American League. His power production has been down the last month (only two homers and seven RBI in the 34 games before tonight), but he has batted .313 in his last 47 games.
His home run was his 30th of the season, a club-record fifth time he has hit that many.
Ballard ran into problems in the fourth. Tony Fernandez, who came into the game hitting .320, seventh in the league, led off with a bouncing single through the box. He took second when Ballard balked.
Ballard induced an easy fly to left by getting George Bell with a fastball in on the fists and then struck out Cecil Fielder on a 3-2 fastball in his eyes. It appeared he did not want to give Jesse Barfield (hitting .341 in the last 19 games) a good pitch to hit, walking him on four pitches to get to journeyman designated hitter Juan Beniquez.
Beniquez, who was acquired from the Royals on Aug. 7, seized the opportunity. He went for everything on Ballard's first pitch -- and got it. The ball ended up 20 rows deep into the leftfield bleachers for a 3-2 Toronto lead.
Toronto, in the heat of the AL East pennant race and seeing Detroit with an early lead over Boston tonight, wasted little time yanking Nunez. John Cerutti started the bottom of the fourth.
In the sixth, Cerutti walked Murray with two outs and allowed Larry Sheets a hard single to right.
Blue Jays Manager Jimy Williams brought in Mark Eichhorn to face righty Ray Knight. Eichhorn, the one-time stopper who has struggled recently, failed again as Knight lined a ball one foot inside the third-base line to tie the game at 3.
Sheets, running on the 3-2 pitch with two outs, probably would have scored also, but a fan touched the ball, making it a ground-rule double. David Wells got Terry Kennedy swinging on a 1-2 pitch.