TORONTO, JULY 26 -- On the day after Baltimore Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina pledged to make amends with Cito Gaston for any part he might have played in the controversy stemming from baseball's All-Star Game nearly two weeks ago, he awoke to read some not-so-conciliatory words attributed to the Toronto Blue Jays' manager.

Shortly after waking up here this morning, Mussina saw himself being assailed in the local newspapers by Gaston, who later softened his tone when he learned of Mussina's intended apology.

On Sunday in Texas Gaston -- the American League's all-star manager for the game 13 days ago at Oriole Park at Camden Yards -- blasted the young pitcher. Gaston drew the wrath of an entire ballpark -- and later, an entire city -- when he failed to use the hometown pitcher to apply the finishing touches to the AL's 9-3 triumph. Orioles officials and players were irritated that Mussina didn't get into the game.

And Gaston was irritated as well -- because Mussina was throwing in the bullpen in the eighth and ninth innings (Mussina insists that he was doing his between-starts throwing). "By standing up, he showed me he's a person with little class," Gaston reportedly said on Sunday. "Screw him. I just won't take him {on the all-star team} next year. ... He showed very little class as a person."

Informed of Mussina's plans to apologize, Gaston reportedly said: "That's all right. I can accept it. I don't hold a grudge. ... I've never turned down an apology before."

Asked whether he still plans to apologize, Mussina said: "I don't know. ... I don't have a response {to Gaston's remarks}. I don't want to make any more of a problem than there is already."

All of this comes against the backdrop of a two-game American League East series between the Orioles and the Blue Jays beginning Tuesday night at SkyDome.

The Orioles seemingly have grown weary of the entire matter. "It's an on-the-field situation now, and I don't know how big of a deal it is," General Manager Roland Hemond said today. "Personally I think that, when it's 9-3, a hometown player should get in the {all-star} game. But that part of it is done now."

Orioles Manager Johnny Oates -- who, like Gaston, was not available to comment today -- said over the weekend that he doesn't believe incidents like the Gaston-Mussina tiff or even his club's massive brawl with the Seattle Mariners last month have any carryover effect on a team's emotions.

"That's an exhibition," Oates said of the All-Star Game. "It's over with. You guys {the media} are the only people who mention it to me any more. The Seattle thing was unfortunate. You hope nobody gets hurt, and you go on and play.

"I don't think those things spurred anything in our clubhouse. We stayed the same before and after. I don't think 99 percent of the players in there could care less about what happened in the All-Star Game."

Added Orioles second baseman Harold Reynolds: "I've heard a lot of talk about this {Mussina-Gaston} thing giving us extra incentive to beat Toronto. Well, we have plenty of incentive to beat Toronto already. We just have to look at the standings for that."

Mussina originally was scheduled to start Tuesday night, but a strained back muscle has Oates saying that the right-hander won't pitch until Friday against the Boston Red Sox in Baltimore at the earliest. The Orioles' starters for the series now are the reeling Rick Sutcliffe and Fernando Valenzuela, against Jack Morris and Orioles killer Todd Stottlemyre -- who's 8-0 against Baltimore in his career.

The fourth-place Orioles (54-45) have spent most of this season chasing Toronto, often from afar -- just as they spent much of last summer on the heels of the Blue Jays. Toronto (56-44) reclaimed first place tonight without even playing. Both the Red Sox and New York Yankees lost, breaking the virtual three-way tie for the top spot. The Blue Jays, as World Series champions, have won two straight and three of the last four AL East crowns, and their fearsome offense offsets the shortcomings of their starting pitching corps.

But the Red Sox are baseball's hottest team, riding a 25-6 surge. The Yankees, some baseball people say, may be the most dangerous club in the division. And the Detroit Tigers, although they seemingly are fading, still are only four games back. There hasn't been a division race this tight this late in the season since 1983. That year, the top four teams in the AL East all were within a half-game of one another on Aug. 10 (with the Orioles going on to their last World Series championship), while the National League East had its top four clubs a half-game apart on Sept. 5.

So Oates, with the Orioles set to begin a run of 19 consecutive games versus AL East rivals, is not about to get carried away about two days in Toronto in July. "To me, it's just the start of playing in the division for a while," he said. "It means the top four teams aren't all going to be winning on the same day."