One of the winning streaks had to come to an end at Memorial Stadium last night. But it wasn't exactly a tossup which one would go.
And even if you believe in reverse locks, voodoo dolls and the law of averages, you would have had to stretch every conceivable imagination to plot the Orioles' dramatic 6-5 win over the Minnesota Twins.
Forget that the Twins were working on a 15-game run that was the longest winning streak in the American League in 14 years.
Forget that Minnesota manager Tom Kelly had the courage of his conviction to intentionally walk Cal Ripken to put the winning run on base with two outs in the ninth inning.
Forget that the Orioles were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position until Randy Milligan took the last swing of the night.
And forget that the Orioles have the worst record in the major leagues in one-run decisions (they are now 5-13) -- and had already lost three straight by the slimmest of margins to the Twins two weeks ago.
What needs to be remembered here is that only once in 32 similar situations had the Orioles come from behind to win after the eighth inning. And that they had been in last place continuously since May 11, which included the entire 23-game career of John Oates as a major-league manager.
So, when Rick Aguilera, the Twins' ace closer, came in to protect a 5-3 lead in the ninth inning this one figured to be history. But almost faster than you could say "it was nice while it lasted," Milligan's two-run double capped a three-run uprising, ended a marvelous 16-day stretch for the Twins and extended the Orioles' modest winning streak to three games.
When it was over, Milligan stood at second base and thrust his arms into the air as 25,600 spectators reacted like this was postseason play.
The irony of the ending was that Milligan's drive came within inches of bouncing over the left-centerfield fence. Had that happened, it would have only tied the game, with the ground rules restricting Ripken to third base and leaving matters up to Leo Gomez, the next hitter.
"I never thought about it bouncing over the fence," said Milligan. "My only thoughts were about the big man in centerfield -- Kirby Puckett has been known to run down a few line drives."
But in the first base coaching box, Curt Motton knew there was only one chance the Orioles wouldn't score the winning run on Milligan's hit. "I saw where the ball was and I started yelling 'don't go over the fence,' " said Motton. "I knew it was going to be close and I knew that was the only way Cal wouldn't score."
When a team has won 15 in a row, it could almost be excused for expecting to get such a bounce. And so could a team that has struggled as much as the Orioles.
"Sitting in the dugout, when it was 5-4, it went through my mind how many times have we been one hit away?" admitted Oates. "Then when I saw it [Milligan's double] my first thought was 'don't go over.' "
Sitting in his private mezzanine box, general manager Roland Hemond's excitement was likewise jeopardized by the trajectory of Milligan's game-winning hit. "If that ball had bounced over the fence," Hemond said, "they might have won 15 more in a row. I'm just glad we weren't playing on artificial turf."
Milligan was just happy to get a reprieve. "I missed a chance to get in some runs in the first inning," said Milligan, who has now driven in at least one run in five straight games. "And that seeing-eye hit [Al Newman's eighth-inning ground single to rightfield that drove in the Twins' final run] I should have chased down.
"It's about time I started to contribute," said Milligan, whose season has been a series of misadventures dating back to spring training. "In the last week or so, after the thumb injury, I just figured nothing else could happen to me. I'm trying to forget about home runs, just hit line drives and let the next guy [in the lineup] do his job."
The concentration factor probably helped Milligan after Aguilera blew a high fastball past him on a 1-and-1 pitch just before the payoff hit. "I was a little too hyper on that swing," he said. "I was trying to do too much with that swing. I had to calm myself down and just try to get a base hit."
If stopping the Twins' 15-game winning streak provided any particular satisfaction for the Orioles (who were victims in Nos. 3-4-5), they hid it well.
"I didn't think about it until I saw Cal sliding across home plate," said Milligan. "We all knew they had a 15-game streak, but you think about not letting them beat you, not stopping the streak."
When he was asked if last night's victory was any sweeter because of the Twins' streak, a weary smile spread over Oates' face. "All of my wins are sweet," he said. "When you only have 10 of them lifetime [his record as manager is now 10-14], they're all sweet.
"Stopping the streak means nothing whatsoever to me, except we won a game," said Oates. "We've got to win as many as we can, as fast as we can.
"After a win like that, you look forward to coming to the ballpark the next day. Your breakfast tastes better. Everything is better."