Blue Jays 6, Orioles 2

By the end of an exhausting four-day sojourn to Toronto, it was not the trip through customs, exchange rate, or the different currency that had the Baltimore Orioles wishing for a quick exit out of Canada. It was a series loss to the Blue Jays that left the Orioles' lead in the American League East at a mere half game over the Boston Red Sox.

Thursday's 6-2 loss finished a series in which the Orioles dropped three of four to the Blue Jays. Meantime, Boston, which was idle Thursday, has won nine of 10.

"We knew we weren't going to run away with this thing," Orioles designated hitter Jay Gibbons said. "This is hopefully going to be a battle to the end."

If the Orioles are to stay in the battle, they will need more from their pitching staff. In this series, no Baltimore starter lasted more than 51/3 innings and each allowed at least three runs.

"We're still in first place, that's the way I look at it," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "We have to battle through it. Our guys are playing as hard as they can. You can't get upset at that at all."

Roy Halladay, the Toronto ace whom the Orioles had already beaten twice this season, was masterful, allowing just one run in eight innings. Halladay threw 98 pitches and 74 of them were strikes.

"Everything he threw was a strike and everything had movement," Gibbons said. "It's what I've seen for five years."

Halladay allowed the Orioles only two scoring chances. Baltimore botched one of them.

With the Orioles trailing 2-1 in the third, David Newhan and Larry Bigbie singled to start the inning. Brian Roberts followed by blooping a ball behind second base. Center fielder Vernon Wells, second baseman Orlando Hudson and shortstop Russ Adams all charged, but no one could make a catch. The ball bounced on the green turf, lifting little rubber pellets buried under the artificial surface.

Though Wells was near the ball, Orioles third base coach Tom Trebelhorn sent Newhan home. Trebelhorn said, because Wells normally plays deep, he thought Adams would be the one to field the ball. Wells's throw arrived in time and Newhan was out by a significant margin.

"If I had to do it all over again, shoot, yeah I'd like to have bases loaded with no outs," Trebelhorn said. "It was fairly deflating, yes."

The rally seemed to lose all momentum after that out. Chris Gomez flied out to center for the second out and Miguel Tejada struck out to end the inning. Tejada seemed appalled by his strikeout. The shortstop had swung at a looping curveball well outside the strike zone. He shook his head and stood in the batter's box for several moments. Gomez arrived at home plate carrying Tejada's glove and hat, and the two walked back to their positions.

Sidney Ponson managed to escape several Blue Jays rallies. Ponson allowed a base runner in each of the first five innings but gave up just two runs in that time. He induced double plays in the second, third and fourth innings to end rallies.

But the Blue Jays gave Halladay a comfortable lead with four runs in the sixth. The inning was highlighted by a two-run double by Hudson.

Ponson, who had minimized rallies for most of the night, could not stop this one. The Aruban gave up six runs and a whopping 11 hits in just 51/3 innings. In his past three starts, Ponson has allowed 31 hits in just 181/3 innings. The pitcher, upset about an unspecified reason, declined to speak to reporters after the game.

"He didn't have his best stuff tonight," Mazzilli said, "but he battled."

The Orioles will now limp to Atlanta to face the Braves, who on Thursday began the day with the best ERA in the majors.

The clubhouse, which is usually full of activity, was somber after the loss. Hardly any players said a word and the few who spoke did so softly. Ponson grabbed his checkbook and gave a tip to one of the clubhouse attendants. The pitcher told the young man that perhaps they'd see each other again on the team's next trip to Toronto at the end of August.

"If I'm not traded by then," Ponson said.

Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun collides with Orioles' David Newhan, who is out at home plate.