Injuries and pitching problems have put Toronto and Detroit into a position where they are staggering to the finish in the American League East.
The pesky Milwaukee Brewers completed a sweep of their three-game series with the Blue Jays as Juan Nieves pitched a five-hitter and Dale Sveum hit a two-run homer in a 5-2 victory Wednesday night at Toronto.
It was the fourth consecutive loss for the Blue Jays, who are without two injured starters, shortstop Tony Fernandez and catcher Ernie Whitt, but once again they didn't lose any ground.
The Tigers, suffering from a lack of pitching, were buried by the last-place Orioles, 7-3, to remain 1 1/2 games behind the Blue Jays. Detroit plays Baltimore again tonight, then meets Toronto in the last three games of the season at Detroit over the weekend.
The Brewers are only playing for third place, but they have prevented the Blue Jays from making a runaway of the East. The sweep of the series gave the Brewers a 9-4 record against Toronto for the season.
Nieves (14-8), one of the hard-throwing youngsters the Brewers are building a strong pitching staff around, struck out 10. He was locked in a 2-2 tie with Dave Stieb (13-9) going into the fifth.
A walk to Paul Molitor and a triple by Robin Yount broke the tie and sent Stieb to the showers with his fourth consecutive defeat.
The Brewers' Rob Deer, appearing as a pinch-hitter, set a record he's not likely to cherish. Deer struck out for the 186th time to break the league record set last season by Pete Incaviglia of the Texas Rangers. The major league record is 189, set by Bobby Bonds of the 1970 San Francisco Giants.
After Deer struck out, the Brewers scored two more runs to give Nieves a 5-2 lead, and he was never in danger the rest of the way.
The final home game for the Blue Jays drew 35,245 fans, and they set a club attendance record with 2,778,459 for the season.
Molitor, who has about given up hope of catching the injured Wade Boggs in the batting race after going 0 for 2, thinks the Blue Jays will win the East.
"The Blue Jays played well in this series," he said. "We just had three outstanding pitching performances and some timely hitting.
"They just have to go into Detroit and do what they've done all year. Win two of three and they'll be champions."
Nieves was in command throughout, except for Lloyd Moseby, who had three of the five hits.
"It's a good feeling to end the season with a complete game against the team that will probably win the league championship," Nieves said.
Manager Jimy Williams held a clubhouse meeting before the game, and the Blue Jays appeared to be loose.
"The Brewers have played well against us all season," outfielder Jesse Barfield said. "Good riddance, Milwaukee. Hello, Detroit. Let's go for it."
If Detroit beats Baltimore tonight, the Blue Jays will have to win two out of three to take the division outright. If they win only one, there would be a one-game playoff.
If Baltimore beats the Tigers, the Blue Jays would go into Detroit with a two-game lead and could win the division with just one victory.
Baltimore 7, Detroit 3--The Tigers were supposed to use Walt Terrell, their 16-game winner, against the lowly Orioles in this one at Detroit, but Terrell suffered a stiff neck and had to withdraw.
It really messed up Manager Sparky Anderson's pitching plans for the rest of the season. Terrell was due to pitch Wednesday night, then come back in the season finale. Now they aren't even sure he can pitch tonight.
Dan Petry, removed from the rotation more than a month ago because he wasn't pitching well, lasted only 2 innings, giving up 5 runs and wrecking any hopes the Tigers had of cutting into the Toronto lead. Terry Kennedy and Fred Lynn hit home runs off Petry (9-7). In his previous start Aug. 21, Petry gave up seven hits and seven runs in five innings.
Rookie Jose Mesa, loser of his first three starts in the majors, won his first game and was just one out from a complete game. Former Dodger Tom Niedenfuer came on to get the final out.
The Orioles obtained Mesa from Toronto Aug. 31 in the Mike Flanagan trade.
"Now," Anderson said, "we only have to win tomorrow night and then win two out of three over the weekend to force a playoff.
"We've been the luckiest people in the world. It's a miracle is what it is. I wouldn't be surprised if we fell into this thing.
"God probably does love baseball players and He must like Detroit. I wouldn't suggest we continue this way, though.
"We're not focusing on our objective. This is like running a 100-yard dash and turning around and running the other way."
Among other things, Alan Trammell went hitless, ending his hitting string at 18 games.
If Terrell is able to pitch tonight, he will be opposed by Mike Boddicker (10-11), probably the Orioles' best pitcher.
Anderson said he expects Terrell to be ready. If not, he may have to go with Nate Snell.