BALTIMORE, OCT. 2 -- This game looked vaguely familiar.
In the next-to-last game of 1989, Baltimore's Dave Johnson pitched strongly enough to win, carrying a lead into the eighth inning, but Mark Williamson gave up the lead that enabled Toronto to clinch the American League East championship.
A year later, Johnson pitched well enough to win the next-to-last game of a season against Toronto. But this time he gave up a ninth-inning home run to hot-hitting Fred McGriff to lose, 2-1, and let the Blue Jays manage to keep flying in the American League East title race.
The victory, coupled with Chicago's extra-inning win in Boston, lifted the Jays to within one of the Red Sox in the here-you-take-it, no-I-don't-want-it AL East. Toronto needs another victory here and another Boston defeat on Wednesday, the last day of the season, to force a one-game playoff with the Red Sox Thursday afternoon in Toronto. The Red Sox swept three one-run games there at the end of August.
"We have to go out and play our game," said Kelly Gruber after the Blue Jays had gathered in front of a television set in their clubhouse and cheered against the Red Sox. "We have to play the hand that's been dealt to us -- or that we dealt ourselves."
Then Gruber speculated about what's on Red Sox fans' minds in particular. Could Boston yet blow the race?
"I think they can have quite a bit of pressure tomorrow," Gruber said. "It's not ours to lose, it's theirs."
Dave Stieb, the ace of the Toronto staff, will oppose Baltimore fastballer Ben McDonald in the finale here Wednesday night. Stieb declined comment as he brushed past reporters and rushed out the clubhouse door as soon as the White Sox won. Clearly, there would be more than a little pressure on him too.
Toronto Manager Cito Gaston couldn't have been happier about McGriff's home run, a shot to right field that was unquestionably gone when it left the bat. McGriff worried about the ball carrying, but he had a wind to help it.
"Anytime you get a home run to win a ballgame, it's a good feeling, no matter when it comes," said Gaston, who also watched and waited on the Boston result.
"I had had some good cuts before, but I hadn't hit anything," said McGriff. His 35th of the season -- and 30th of the season allowed by Johnson -- "turned it all around" for left-hander Bud Black (13-11), who got the victory. The deciding blow came on a 2-2 pitch after Johnson had scattered six hits over 8 2/3 innings. A groan of disappointment went up from most of the 19,789 spectators at Memorial Stadium.
"It was a change-up, but it just didn't move the way the other change-ups I threw him did," Johnson (13-9) said. "It just kind of stayed there. It didn't go down and away like the others."
Tall Tom Henke recorded his 32nd save after Black allowed only three hits. Black was virtually invincible except when he allowed the Orioles' only run in the eighth inning. "The momentum changed then," Black said, "but the home run took care of that."
It was a tough setback for Johnson, who faced the minimum 12 batters through four innings, allowing only a single by Mookie Wilson to lead off the game. Wilson was erased when Gruber hit into a double play, and Johnson, a right-hander with a tailing fastball, a sinker and plenty of cunning, was off to a string of pretty innings.
He pitched as effortlessly as he ever has in his two seasons with the Orioles before George Bell, John Olerud and Pat Borders put together consecutive singles for the game's first run in the fifth. Borders's run-producer was an ugly opposite-fielder into shallow right field.
Johnson got into more trouble in the sixth, giving up a two-out double to Tony Fernandez. But he pitched aggressively to Gruber, up to .400 against the Orioles, challenging him with fastballs and getting him on a soft fly ball to center.
Black, meanwhile, continued on cruise control. He gave up a single to Steve Finley leading off the first and did not allow another hit until weakening in the eighth. Until then, the most damage the Orioles could muster was a Mike Devereaux line drive in the first that clipped Black on his left wrist. He shook that off after throwing Devereaux out.
Between a sacrifice by Brady Anderson in the third and a walk to Bill Ripken in the sixth, Black retired seven in a row. Black was a late-season acquisition from Cleveland for three minor league pitchers.
Twice the Orioles hinted at scoring. Jeff McKnight reached third base on an infield out after Anderson's sacrifice, and Randy Milligan offered some warning-track power in the seventh with a sharply hit drive to left-center that was caught up to by Wilson. Black looked strong through the seventh when he retired the side in order.
But Craig Worthington opened the Orioles' eighth with a single to left. After failing to sacrifice, McKnight slapped a hit-and-run single to right, moving Rene Gonzales, running for Worthington, to third.
Gonzales tagged up and scored standing up on the weak-armed Wilson, who took Anderson's sinking line drive in medium left center. McKnight took second on the throw to the plate and moved to third on a grounder by Finley. But Bill Ripken flied to right to end what would be the Orioles' last real chance of the night to hand Boston the title.
When McGriff homered, it was the fourth time in the last five Toronto-Baltimore meetings that the Jays have won in the ninth inning. "The White Sox had a chance to help us and they did," Black said. "I hope we can get another lift from the White Sox tomorrow. It's sort of like a doubleheader win, and that's what it's going to take again."