Oakland hit three solo home runs to back right-hander Gil Heredia as the Athletics recorded a 4-0 victory Wednesday night to earn a doubleheader split.
In the day game, Brook Fordyce hit a two-run homer and Chuck McElroy pitched five strong innings in his record-breaking first career start as the Orioles won 2-0, ending a five-game losing streak.
The split kept the A's in neutral in their drive to make the playoffs for the first time since 1992. Oakland began the day 2 1/2 games behind Seattle in the AL West but a half-game ahead of Cleveland in the wild card race.
"This time of the season, it's always tough to lose," Oakland outfielder Terrence Long said. "But I know we're going to find a way to get it done."
a href="http://www.sportsline.com/u/baseball/mlb/players/player_8243.htm" target="external">Matt Stairs hit his 21st home run in the fifth off Mercedes, who is tied with New York's Andy Pettitte for most wins in the AL since the All-Star break (nine).
"The long ball killed us today. They paid us back," Mercedes said. "We won 2-0 and they came back and did the same thing to us."
Heredia (15-11) allowed seven hits in 7 2-3 innings, striking out six and walking none. He was 1-4 in his last eight starts since July 30.
The first game was a makeup of Tuesday's nightcap, which was postponed by the commissioner's office because the rain-delayed first game ended at 10:36 p.m. The A's protested the postponement, to no avail.
Playing in front a crowd of approximately 2,000 fans (the announced attendance was 32,539), the A's got only one runner as far as third base.
"This was a morgue," Oakland manager Art Howe said of the setting. "It was an embarrassment for major league baseball, but not an excuse for us. You've got to motivate yourself."
The loss ended the A's four-game winning streak, but Oakland went 5-1 on their swing through Tampa Bay and Baltimore.
"I don't what else you could ask for," Howe said. "The guys have been playing great ball."
Now comes a huge four-game series at Seattle, beginning Thursday night.
"If we win the series, no matter what we'll be in great shape," Howe said.
McElroy (2-0) made 603 appearances in relief before getting the call by Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove, whose team was playing its second doubleheader in nine days. McElroy set a major league record for most games pitched before his first start, breaking the mark of 552 by Mike Stanton.
McElroy did more than just show up. The left-hander allowed only three singles and a walk, striking out two in the longest stint of his career.
"All I was trying to do was keep us in the game," McElroy said. "I went into the start with the same mindset as I do in relief. I looked at it as just another outing, and I went out and had fun."
Ryan Kohlmeier, the fifth Baltimore pitcher, struck out the side in the ninth for his 11th save in as many chances.
The Orioles failed to get a hit off Barry Zito (5-4) until the fourth inning. After Delino DeShields drew a leadoff walk, Fordyce hit his 13th homer, a drive to left that barely cleared the wall.
Zito allowed four hits and four walks in 7 2-3 innings. The A's have scored 56 runs in his five wins and only two runs in his four losses.
©2000 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed