TORONTO, SEPT. 16 -- The Baltimore Orioles had Dan Boone on their side tonight, but it was the Toronto Blue Jays who continued to blaze a trail through the American League East with their third straight clutch, ninth-inning victory.
Even 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief by Boone, the seventh-generation nephew of the legendary frontiersman, could not stop the surging Blue Jays.
George Bell's looper to right field off Gregg Olson in the final frame spelled the difference this time as Toronto beat the Orioles, 6-5, before 49,886 SkyDome patrons to pull to within one game of the division-leading Boston Red Sox.
The Blue Jays (79-68), winners of nine of their last 11 games, got solo home runs from the sizzling Kelly Gruber and the formerly slumping Bell against homer-prone Baltimore starter Dave Johnson.
The Orioles twice led by one run in the early going, but Toronto snapped a 3-3 deadlock with a two-run fifth inning and survived David Segui's first major league home run, a two-run drive off relief ace Tom Henke that tied the game at 5 in the eighth.
"We don't feel like we can be stopped now," Gruber said in Toronto's jubilant postgame clubhouse.
"These things just feed off themselves. We're on the all-time roll, huh?"
Baltimore meanwhile has lost in the eighth or ninth inning five times in 11 days. This defeat was mundane by comparison, for the Blue Jays needed three-run ninths to come from behind and win Friday and Saturday.
Tonight's collapse saw Tony Fernandez lead off the ninth with a single off Joe Price (3-4) and steal second.
Facing Olson, Gruber sent Fernandez to third with a groundout to first baseman Segui.
After an intentional walk to Fred McGriff, Bell dumped a ball into right field on which the Orioles got a meaningless forceout at second base while Fernandez scored.
Olson, who insists his recently sore right elbow no longer plagues him, was on the mound for two of the weekend's debacles and has not regained his usual sharpness since a nine-day layoff earlier this month.
"If Gregg Olson was Gregg Olson, we'd have had three more wins in this series," Manager Frank Robinson said.
The Orioles, who fell to 65-80 and dropped their 13th consecutive series to AL East opponents, got a home run from Steve Finley and scratched out a run in the first inning without the benefit of a hit. That, plus Cal Ripken's run-scoring grounder in the third, was the extent of their offense until Segui struck.
Johnson's second start since returning from the disabled list was decidedly worse than his first, as he lasted just 4 2/3 innings and took over the major league lead in home runs allowed with 28.
Blue Jays starter Frank Wills was only slightly better, surrendering six hits and three runs in six innings before the Toronto bullpen took over. Henke (2-2), pitching for the first time in eight days, registered the win.
This afternoon, several Blue Jays players watched on a clubhouse television as the Red Sox left the bases loaded in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox to lose, 4-2. So they knew even before taking the field tonight that a victory would put them closer than two games to Boston for the first time since Aug. 23.
"It actually takes a little pressure off you knowing the other guy already lost," Gruber said. "You know all you can have is a good day or a mediocre day, but not a bad one."
For Gruber, most days have been good lately. He's hitting .404 in September and has 18 RBI in his past eight games -- including a three-run homer to beat the Orioles Saturday. His RBI total is up to 106.
He continued his torrid pace in the first inning tonight, pulling a Johnson fastball into the left field seats for his 28th home run to tie the contest at 1.
But Bell, who entered tonight homerless since Aug. 2 and without an RBI since Aug. 20, took over from there. His fourth-inning homer gave Toronto a 3-2 lead, and an RBI single an inning later pushed the advantage to 5-3. That two-run inning was keyed by Fernandez's 17th triple, the most in the majors by a wide margin.
Bell's single prompted Robinson to pull Johnson and bring on Boone.
The 5-foot-8, 142-pound knuckleballer -- the lightest major league pitcher in 70 years, the Orioles' public relations department has determined -- made his first big league appearance since Sept. 30, 1982, the greatest duration between major league pitching outings since Jim Bouton returned to the mound in 1978 after an eight-year and 42-day absence.
"It was exciting," he said. "I wasn't nervous. My only problem I had was an overdose of adrenaline."
Orioles Notes: A photograph in today's Toronto Sun seemed to prove that umpire John Shulock incorrectly called Wilson safe at third base during the ninth inning of the Blue Jays' victory Saturday. The picture showed Wilson's hand being tagged by Craig Worthington well before reaching the bag; Gruber followed that play with his game-winning homer.