It was a game with nooks and crannies and all sorts of sweet morals, a sweaty, 188-minute piece of ever-changing theater that left 47,000 fans with sunburns to doctor, a win to celebrate and much to discuss. Down at the bottom line, however, was this one little pearl: The Orioles won because, for a change, they let the other team hand over the game.
Of course, the Orioles have usually been the ones doing the handing this season, employing numerous variations on the theme. You don't land 11 1/2 games out in major-league baseball's worst division without -- and please pardon the scratchy English -- blowing a passel of games. "We've been giving them away," said Randy Milligan, who had three more hits. "We'll take this one."
Sure they will. And let's get right to the nubbins. They were able to bank their 6-4 win because the Red Sox played a first baseman in right field. That's it. That was the difference. The Sox's regular right fielder took the day off, and their legendary right fielder was in the Orioles' dugout, so their first baseman was in the outfield. He dropped a routine fly and the winning runs scored. The game was a draw otherwise. Four runs apiece.
Carlos Quintana was the outfielder-for-a-day who dropped Cal Ripken's soft, high fly with two out in the sixth inning, allowing the day's last two runs to cross the plate. Quintana didn't want to talk about it afterward. Thank heavens for Joe Morgan, Boston's straight-shooting manager. "It was a simple play, and he missed it," the man said. "What else can you say?"
This is what else you could have said: In the Orioles' dugout was a right fielder who made hundreds of such plays for 19 years in Boston. His name is Dwight Evans and he is 39 and the Sox released him after last season, thinking him finished. The Orioles signed him and he has been flawless afield this year, proving the Sox very wrong.
Evans is on the disabled list right now with a strained Achilles' tendon, but, given the chance, he never would have missed Ripken's easy out. Quintana, 25, had played some outfield early in his career, but probably won't play much more. In these cold, corporate, streamlined, buy-out-the-old-folks Nineties, score it a rare, if only moral, victory for the gray-haired. All of them except Joe Morgan, of course.
Morgan seemed a bit flabbergasted after the loss, his team's second in three games in this series and ninth in the past 13 overall. The Sox's lot is not pretty right now. They're 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Blue Jays, their rotation is struggling and they're fighting with each other in the dugout. Someone should tell them it isn't September. "The thing that worries me," Morgan said, "is that it's something different every day."
The Sox did get some big hits yesterday, the biggest home runs by Mike Greenwell and rookie Mo Vaughn. Greenwell's tied the game at 4-4, but Vaughn's was the one that had both teams shaking their heads. It was clobbered, landing five rows from the top of the stands in right field, very nearly becoming only the second ball ever hit out of Memorial Stadium. The Orioles' Jeff Robinson served up the please-hit-me fastball.
"I didn't even turn around to watch it," said Milligan, who was playing first base. "It wouldn't have surprised me to see it go out. The wind was blowing hard in that direction. Sam [Horn] almost hit one out in batting practice. But, hey, he [Vaughn] crushed the ball."
The Sox used the hit to take a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the fifth, at which point the Orioles offered up their own Home Run Derby. Cal Ripken hit one out with a man on, and Milligan followed with a line drive that easily cleared the fence. Call them MilliRip or Ripigan or whatever, but they're absolutely carrying the club right now. Check it out: They're a combined .479 with 19 RBI in the past eight games.
As if to demonstrate the advantage of having two hitters so hot in the middle of a lineup, Morgan walked Ripken to pitch to Milligan in the third yesterday. His theory? Milligan was the lesser of two evils. Milligan responded with a first-pitch single, driving in the game's first run. "I don't care," Morgan said. "We can't get Ripken out. I'm not pitching to him there." (Morgan tried it again in the eighth and Moose flied out to end the inning.)
Anyway, it all came down to a 4-4 draw in the sixth and then Ripken lobbed up that fly and Quintana made his boo-boo and the Orioles' bullpen took over from there. Mark Williamson threw two scoreless innings to set up the ninth for Gregg Olson, who appeared at Memorial Stadium for the first time since his nightmare on Turn Back the Clock Day.
The fans were noticeably quieter than normal for Olson, as if they didn't quite trust him after his recent troubles. (Maybe they didn't recognize him; he's growing an Al Hrabosky mustache.) But he was his old self yesterday, getting the side out in order, the last pitch a big, round curve that Vaughn missed miserably. Have faith, people.
That makes 10 wins in 15 games for the Orioles, and while they aren't gaining any ground on the Blue Jays, at least they can look at themselves in the mirror. It's a small victory in a year of few victories to date, and it sure beats being down 5-0 in the third inning, which was their customary position through April and May. After all that, the club will settle for just about anything. Especially a game that's handed to them.