BALTIMORE, JULY 31 -- The Ben McDonald legend continued to expand tonight, as the 6-foot-7 right-hander cut the first-place Toronto Blue Jays down to size.
Starting on only three days' rest, McDonald went seven innings without yielding a walk in the Baltimore Orioles' 6-4 victory before 37,771 at Memorial Stadium. He became only the second man in the club's rich pitching history to earn victories in his first three major league starts, matching the 1962-63 feat of Dave McNally.
McDonald left with a 6-3 lead, and relievers Jeff Ballard and Gregg Olson turned it into a laugher. At least everyone in the Baltimore dressing room was laughing -- partly in giddy relief -- after Olson struck out Kelly Gruber and George Bell.
After yielding an RBI single to Pat Borders in the eighth, Olson walked the first two batters in the ninth. He went 2-0 on Tony Fernandez before getting the first out and he went 2-0 on Gruber before the third baseman lofted a long drive to left that drifted a few feet foul.
"I saw him hit it and I said, 'Oh, no, not another homer to lose a game,' " Olson said. "It was a bomb. I was just hoping. But after Gruber I was getting the feel of it."
Cal Ripken hit a three-run homer in the first inning and Craig Worthington had a two-run double as the Orioles continued to produce offensively. What two weeks ago was the American League's worst hitting team collected nine hits tonight and is batting .299 in the last seven games.
With the homer, a single and two intentional walks, Ripken enjoyed a perfect night. The man who really padded his batting average, though, was Toronto's Fred McGriff, who had two doubles and two singles in four at-bats. McGriff was the on-deck batter when Bell struck out to end the game.
The defeat dropped the Blue Jays into a first-place tie in the AL East with Boston, a 7-2 winner over Chicago. The third-place Orioles are four games back.
"This was a big game," said Olson, who was credited with his 24th save. "Now we have a chance to win the series and gain some ground. Mechanically, when I came out of the bullpen I wasn't in sync. The next inning I continued my funk. But at least I was consistent. I've had these nights before."
Manager Frank Robinson, one of the few who did not visit Olson on the mound in the ninth, said: "I'm not going to let it get to me. As long as he gets out of it, I guess it's all right."
McDonald allowed seven hits and two earned runs in another superb effort. What made this one even more gratifying was that he prevailed over one of the American League's best teams despite the absence of his best stuff.
Toronto left-hander John Cerutti owns a degree in economics and mathematics from Amherst, so he could figure out pretty early that he didn't have his best stuff either.
Cerutti walked leadoff man Brady Anderson on four pitches, was tagged for a zero-for-17-slump-ending single by Randy Milligan and had Ripken loft a 2-2 fastball over the left field fence. It was Ripken's 11th homer of the season and his first here since June 17.
By the time he departed in the fifth, Cerutti had yielded six earned runs on eight hits, four walks and two wild pitches.
The Blue Jays got two runs in the second, as a wild pitch by McDonald set up Glenallen Hill's RBI groundout and a run scored when charging right fielder Steve Finley dropped Luis Sojo's line drive.
Singles by Finley, Bill Ripken and Anderson made it 4-2 in the second, and the Orioles got rid of Cerutti during a two-run fifth.
Ron Kittle struck out on what became a wild pitch, putting runners at second and third with two out. Toronto Manager Cito Gaston elected to walk Ripken and have Cerutti pitch to Worthington, a .212 hitter. The move backfired when Worthington grounded a two-run double over third base.
"Ripken has always hit well against us; he's a quality player," Gaston said. "It happens."
Left fielder Anderson made the defensive play of the game in the sixth. With runners on first and third and one out, he made a sliding catch of Greg Myers's drive. Although McGriff tagged up and scored, a big inning was averted.
McDonald threw 109 pitches through seven innings, so Robinson went to his bullpen. Ballard got two out, but with McGriff at second and the right-handed Borders at bat, Robinson summoned Olson, who yielded the fourth run on a single. Olson then struck out Hill on a classic curve, the rookie ducking for safety while the ball broke over the plate.
Olson threw 16 strikes and 18 balls in 1 1/3 innings. "I've never had so many visitors" -- second baseman Bill Ripken, shortstop Cal Ripken, catcher Bob Melvin (several times), pitching coach Al Jackson -- "I was just hoping Frank wouldn't be the last one."
Right-hander Bob Milacki, winless in six July starts, was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right shoulder, and right-hander Mickey Weston (10-0 at Rochester) was recalled. He will start Wednesday.