It will go into the books as another in a series of frustrating one-run defeats, but Baltimore Orioles manager John Oates will not remember it quite that way.
The Orioles came back from a seven-run deficit last night -- against two-time Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen, no less -- and still dropped a 9-8 decision to the Kansas City Royals in extra innings.
Outfielder Danny Tartabull hit towering home run off reliever Mark Williamson in the 10th to complete a two-homer, six-RBI performance that saved the Royals from what would have been a most embarrassing loss.
But to the disappointed Orioles manager, there was some consolation even in his eighth loss in nine one-run decisions.
"Hey, we were down 8-1 to Bret Saberhagen," Oates said. "I've been on some teams that would have just gone through the motions. I don't believe in moral victories because we didn't win, but at least we know that we're capable of coming back from a seven-run [deficit] against a pitcher like that."
The Orioles batted around to score five times in the fifth. Two innings later, Dwight Evans completed the unlikely comeback with a game-tying home run off reliever Luis Aquino.
Royals manager Hal McRae let Saberhagen weather the big fifth inning, apparently so he could qualify for his seventh victory, but the Royals ended up blowing the lead and Saberhagen ended up leaving the game with a sore shoulder. He has been sent back to Kansas City for further examination.
Orioles starter Bob Milacki had no medical explanation for his rocky, 4 1/3 -inning performance. He gave up seven runs on six hits, but Williamson would take the loss despite a solid 3 2/3 innings in which he gave up only one hit -- the second homer to Tartabull.
"It was just a terrible pitch," Williamson said. "The thought process was there, but if you're going to throw a fastball to a first-fastball hitter, you better be sure it's down and off the plate."
Tartabull also had delivered what appeared to be a game-breaking home run in the top of the fifth inning, a three-run shot off Todd Frohwirth that pushed the Royals' lead to seven runs.
It was Tartabull's first start in five games. He has been out with a sprained ligament in his left hand, but did not look particularly uncomfortable swinging the bat last night. The six RBI were a career high.
Milacki was working on a string of four decent performances, but control problems in the third inning led to a four-run Royals rally that put Saberhagen in a seemingly comfortable position.
The Royals had gone down quietly in the first two innings, but Carmelo Martinez drew a leadoff walk in the third and Kurt Stillwell followed with an opposite-field single. Both runners moved up on a sacrifice bunt, but Milacki appeared to be on the verge of working out of the jam when he struck out Brian McRae and jumped ahead 0-2 on the count to Kirk Gibson.
Not so fast. Gibson battled back to draw a base-loading walk, setting up George Brett and Tartabull for consecutive two-run doubles.
The walk to Gibson was the flash point in the inning. Milacki had him down two strikes and didn't want to face Brett, who came into the game with eight hits in 14 career at-bats against the Orioles right-hander. But a borderline 2-2 pitch went the other way, and Milacki never recovered.
"I couldn't tell you if that had an effect on his concentration," Oates said. "Umpires are human beings. They are going to miss calls, some in your favor, some not. But you've got to get the ball back and make the next pitch."
Perhaps Milacki's hesitancy to throw strikes was justified. After the walk to Gibson, he threw the ball over the plate and gave up solid hits to four of the next six batters.
The Royals added their fifth run the following inning on a leadoff double by Kevin Seitzer and a one-out single by Stillwell. Milacki pitched into the fifth before another walk to Gibson and a single by Brett persuaded Oates to bring on Frohwirth in relief.
Not that it did much good. Frohwirth served up the three-run homer to Tartabull that appeared to blow the game open.
Saberhagen doesn't generally need that kind of support. He came into the game ranked sixth among American League pitchers with a 2.61 ERA and has some impressive career numbers against the Orioles. But on this night, he was lucky to have the lopsided early lead.
Designated hitter Sam Horn got his club on the scoreboard in the fourth inning with his 10th homer of the year. The fifth-inning rally included consecutive run-scoring doubles by Cal Ripken, Horn and Dwight Evans with two out. The final run of the inning crossed the plate when Leo Gomez hit a sharp one-hopper that caromed off the chest of second baseman Terry Shumpert for an error.