BALTIMORE -- Just when you think you've seen it all -- every twist and turn that a pennant race can bring, every bizarre or poetic tableau -- baseball invents a new variation on its old themes.

Fans always talk about contending teams and their "scoreboard watching." What do they say, how do they look, who do they blame or praise at the key moment, as their fate, their entire season, is decided by someone else's efforts, or someone else's ineptitude, hundreds of miles away?

On Tuesday night in Memorial Stadium, the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Baltimore Orioles, 2-1, on a two-out solo home run by Fred McGriff in the ninth inning. Then, the Blue Jays waited and watched TV in their clubhouse for more than an hour.

If the Boston Red Sox beat the Chicago White Sox, the Blue Jays' season would be over. They'd be deader than a George Bell joke. And their history of infuriating underachievements would extend to yet another season.

But, if those suddenly beloved White Sox could somehow break that 2-2 extra-inning tie in Fenway Park and beat the Red Sox -- well, what a different story that would be.

Then, the Jays would enter the last day of the season trailing Boston by one game. If their Dave Stieb could beat Baltimore's Ben McDonald, and the Red Sox would oblige -- as is their historical proclivity -- by losing, the American League East rivals would be tied with a playoff game scheduled for Thursday afternoon in Toronto.

At first, the Blue Jays were stone silent, perhaps intimidated by the curious sight of dozens of reporters, and even cameramen, in their inner sanctum as their fate was being decided. But, gradually, the tension of the moment took control and they began to act like themselves.

"Dennis Lamp is in," said several Blue Jays at once, as the portly Red Sox relief pitcher began the 11th inning.

"That's who we want in there," said Bell. His teammates laughed.

Another Red Sox player's face flashed on the screen, his mouth chattering a mile a minute. "He talks so much at the park because at home his wife won't let him get in a word," said coach Mike Squires. More chuckles.

The whispered discussion of strategy and possibilities flashed around the room among a dozen seated players.

Finally, as the White Sox got the go-ahead run to second base, the buzz of comments accompanied almost every pitch. With Ozzie Guillen at bat against Lamp, Squires turned to several Jays and muttered. "That's four sliders in a row he's thrown Ozzie. Come on, Denny {Lamp}, throw him one more."

Lamp's image on the TV screen wound up and threw one last slider to Guillen. The White Sox shortstop lined a clean hit to right field. In an instant, all the muted Blue Jays were on their feet together, screaming and rooting for Ron Karkovice -- a man who looks and runs like a small recreational vehicle -- to get his large posterior around third base and across home plate.

As he slid, or wallowed, across with the go-ahead run, Blue Jays infielder Manny Lee leaped in the air and screamed. All the Torontoans yelled. In that moment, they were a team -- something they seldom have been accused of resembling.

Watching the Blue Jays this evening was a curious exercise. What can you make of Bell and Stieb -- the team's two veteran stars -- walking around the room trying to find out when, or if, the team bus is going to leave for the hotel. Didn't they want to stay and see if their pennant race is over or not? It certainly seemed that they did not.

On the other hand, it's refreshing to see that players making an average of more than $500,000 a year do more cheering and rooting than any comparable group of fans.

"Those people behind home plate in Fenway look like they ate something real bad," said one Blue Jay after Guillen's hit.

"Yeah, Denny Lamp's slider," said Squires.

This is the time of year when baseball is personal. The game is not a battle among uniforms but a contest among people who have known one another -- or known all about one another -- for years. For instance, on Sunday in Boston, someone said, casually, to the Red Sox' Mike Boddicker, "Do you have anything to say to your old teammates in Baltimore?"

Instead of a quip, Boddicker said, cold serious: "Start the left-handers with breaking balls away, then pound 'em in. Keep the curveball away from the right-handers and they won't hurt you. The first time {Junior} Felix, {Tony} Fernandez and Lee come up with nobody on base, throw the ball six feet over their heads to the backstop; that'll take 'em right out of the game. And be careful with McGriff. He's hot."

This game, the Orioles' Dave Johnson had done all of that -- except follow the last injunction. With nobody on base in a 1-1 tie in the ninth and the count 2-2, he threw McGriff a change-up, which he hoped would end up low and away. If it had, "it would have been just another fly ball off the end of the bat." Instead, the ball stayed dead center over the plate. And McGriff had his 35th home run.

Now the stage is set for a lovely, tense ending to what has often been a lackluster regular season. The Red Sox want desperately to avoid a playoff in Toronto, even though they would have Roger Clemens ready to pitch. After all, in the last month the Red Sox have: blown a 6 1/2-game lead, fallen 1 1/2 games behind, rebuilt a two-game lead with two games to play, and now seen that lead dwindle to one game with one to play.

As for the Blue Jays, their past scars are only slightly less deep and their desire to win no less strong.

"What people say about the Red Sox is pretty much what they say about us," said Toronto Manager Cito Gaston. "Chokers in '87. Chokers last year. Underachievers this year. I take all that as a compliment. At least they're talking about you. I know a lot of teams that are getting ready to go home."

This evening in a crowded, stinky old clubhouse, lots of fresh-faced young Blue Jays looked like they were laying the groundwork for their first ulcers.

"You only go this way once," said Gaston. "Try to enjoy it. Say, 'This is a great night to remember.' " Then he added, a bit more candidly, "And just don't let it eat you up too much inside."