BALTIMORE, SEPT. 23 -- In a game that had all the drama of a bowl of cold oatmeal, the Toronto Blue Jays ripped the hapless Baltimore Orioles again tonight, this time, 6-1, before 22,590 at Memorial Stadium.
It was the Blue Jays' 12th victory in 13 games against the Orioles, and they did it with a five-hitter from Jim Clancy (15-10) and home runs from George Bell and Ernie Whitt.
The victory runs their record to 93-59 and keeps them a half game in front of Detroit (92-59), which beat Boston, 4-0. And thus, after 152 games, their real season begins.
The Blue Jays have 10 games left, and starting Thursday night at Exhibition Stadium will play seven of them against the Tigers. If four games in Toronto this weekend don't decide the American League East, there will be three more in Detroit the last three days of the season.
"We're going to have fun and enjoy it," Blue Jays Manager Jimy Williams said. "Playing a series like this is a reward. It says you're a good team and that our guys are good players. It's what we play for."
Former Oriole Mike Flanagan will face Detroit ace Jack Morris in Thursday's game, but the first pitch was actually thrown this afternoon when Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson said he had a special, not-so-secret strategy for the Blue Jays.
What's that, Sparky?
"George Bell," he said. "I'm going to walk him every time he comes up. Mark it down. George Bell ain't going to beat us."
Hearing that, Williams snapped, "He can say whatever he wants to. That's his prerogative . . . We've got some other guys."
He has plenty of other guys, but none like Bell, who leads the major leagues in both home runs (47) and RBI (132). His 47 homers is the most ever for a Latin American -- San Francisco's Orlando Cepeda hit 46 in 1961 -- and the most for an American Leaguer since 1969 when Washington's Harmon Killebrew and Frank Howard hit 49 and 48, respectively, and Oakland's Reggie Jackson hit 47.
Bell's season is only a little less remarkable than Whitt's. At the age of 35, when most catchers are ready for pensions, Whitt is the most overlooked Blue Jay with 19 homers and 72 RBI. He has crushed the Orioles, finishing the season with six homers, three doubles and a .424 average.
His homer off John Habyan (5-6) got the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead in the second. An RBI single by Nelson Liriano made it 2-0 in the third and it went to 3-0 when Rob Ducey scored on Lloyd Moseby's grounder.
Bell's two-run homer in the sixth made it 5-0, and the Orioles broke up Clancy's shutout in the seventh when Cal Ripken Jr. hit his 25th homer.
In one clubhouse, they talked excitedly about a big weekend and a fast finish to a great season. In the other, they talked about finishing and being finished.
"I'm all out of answers," Manager Cal Ripken Sr. said. "They outpitched us, they outhit us and they outdid us in everything. I was asking myself, 'Are they that much better than us?' I guess they were. They beat us 12 out of 13."
The Tigers and Blue Jays are similar in many ways, with both already having scored their 800th run and hit their 200th home run. The Tigers have a slight edge in both categories, and also in starting pitching -- a 30 to 17 lead in complete games.
But those complete games point up a Detroit weakness: the bullpen. The Blue Jays not only have the league's No. 1 reliever -- Tom Henke with 33 saves -- but they also have four other quality middle men -- left-handers John Cerutti and David Wells and right-handers Duane Ward and Mark Eichhorn.
Meanwhile, Anderson is left with rookie Mike Henneman (9-2, 2.87, eight saves) and not much else. The Tigers have converted only 11 of 23 save chances since the all-star break and their relievers have an ERA just over 4.00.
Left-hander Willie Hernandez, the 1984 Cy Young Award winner, has played his way to the back of the bullpen with two victories and three saves since the break. In his last 13 games, he has allowed 17 hits and eight earned runs in 10 1/3 innings (6.97 ERA).
The Tigers traded for veteran Dickie Noles this week, and he saved Tuesday's game.
"He can eat me alive," Detroit's Anderson said of Williams, "and if his starters go five innings, he's really got me. They can use a different pitcher to pitch to each of our hitters the final two innings."