Mariners 3, Orioles 2

As Rafael Palmeiro had hoped, the focus was once again on the Baltimore Orioles and their attempt to win a division title. A night after history had been made, a night after the celebratory champagne had been drunk, a day after Palmeiro had stood at second base and nearly broke up in tears, the Orioles, and their future Hall of Famer, once again thrust themselves into the middle of a wild pennant race that appears wide open. Three teams are within 11/2 games in the division and the Orioles may be the favorites if they could finalize a deal that lands them a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.

Earlier in the day the Boston Red Sox lost, meaning the Orioles had an opportunity to move into first place for the first time since June 23. Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners kept Baltimore a game behind Boston, but still in hot pursuit.

To put Baltimore's chances at a division title in perspective, prior to Saturday's game, the Orioles' Bruce Chen was the only starting pitcher among the three top teams in the AL East with an ERA under 4.00.

That is the reason why Florida Marlins pitcher A.J. Burnett has become such a valuable commodity on the relatively weak trading market. There was no significant progress in talks between the Orioles and the Marlins for Burnett. Several other teams, including division foes Boston and the Toronto Blue Jays, remain interested. It still appears likely that Burnett won't make his next start as a Marlin. The Orioles' offer of reliever Jorge Julio, Hayden Penn and Larry Bigbie in exchange for Burnett and possibly either Mike Lowell or Juan Encarnacion appears to be the best one available.

"I do think Burnett has a chance to move soon -- as opposed to closer to the deadline, or not at all," said a high-ranking executive with one of the teams vying for Burnett said. "At this point, the Orioles seem to be the front-runner."

Orioles Executive Vice President Jim Beattie, not specifically speaking about Burnett, said Baltimore will not trade for a player simply to keep them from a division opponent.

"I don't think it's just us three," Beattie said. "Whatever we're trying to get, there's other people out there trying to do their part as well. You're battling everybody. There's competition out there from everybody. I feel very good with the players that we have we're able to do some things, if we decide to do them, we could step up and do them. We have good young players that everybody wants. So the organization has built itself up. They can't say, 'there's no one really that we're interested in.' We're not getting that whatsoever."

With the division title in reach, Beattie said the Orioles have put their efforts into winning this season.

"I don't think we're shy about doing something to help the club this year," he said.

It has been Chen who has surprisingly led Baltimore's starting rotation. He's easily been their most consistent pitcher and it will certainly be interesting to note what happens with him if the Orioles do acquire Burnett. Baltimore will need to demote a starter.

Many have said Chen's late development has mirrored that of Seattle starter Jamie Moyer, an early disappointment who became a stellar starting pitcher late in his career. Moyer, 42, has won more games in his forties than he did in his twenties. Neither is a hard thrower, both often relying on location and deception.

The two opposed each other on Saturday in a pitching duel that was not decided until the bottom of the ninth inning. The winning run scored on a single by Mike Morse against rookie reliever Chris Ray.

The Mariners scored two runs against Chen in the first inning, one on a sacrifice fly, the other on a towering home run by first baseman Richie Sexson.

Baltimore scored its runs in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by B.J. Surhoff and a groundout by Bigbie.

The starters did not allow another run. Their pitching lines were similar: Moyer threw eight innings and allowed 10 hits, walked one and struck out five. Chen threw 72/3 innings, allowed six hits, walked one and struck out five.

Baltimore third baseman Melvin Mora slaps a tag on Seattle's Mike Morse, who was retired trying to stretch a double to end the 4th inning.Orioles' Rafael Palmeiro, who had two hits to boost his career total to 3,003, chugs to third on a double by Luis Matos in the fourth inning. Palmeiro came home on Larry Bigbie's groundout to tie the score at 2.