Third baseman Leo Gomez and first baseman Randy Milligan were in the middle of everything last night.
They were the principle characters in an umpiring controversy that almost sent the Baltimore Orioles to their sixth straight defeat.
They were also prominent in the three-homer barrage that brought the club back to score an 11-inning, 5-4 victory over the Chicago White Sox last night at Memorial Stadium.
Gomez delivered the final shot, a one-out homer to left off reliever Donn Pall that broke the White Sox's seven-game winning streak. Milligan and catcher Chris Hoiles each brought the Orioles from behind in regulation -- Hoiles' one-out moonshot in the ninth sending the game into extra innings.
The Orioles apparently were determined not to let a strange umpiring decision in the fourth inning keep them from averting a four-game sweep in their final 1991 series with the White Sox.
Here's what happened:
The Orioles were down by a run and had runners at second and third with one out when Gomez hit a chopper down the third-base line. The ball was ruled foul by third-base umpire Jim McKean as third baseman Robin Ventura fielded it and Randy Milligan rushed back to the sanctuary of third base.
Ventura appeared to tag Milligan too late and then threw late to first, all of which appeared to be irrelevant until plate umpire Vic Voltaggio overruled McKean and ruled the ball fair, apparently leaving the bases loaded. But after the two umpires conferred, McKean ruled that Ventura had tagged out Milligan, which sent Orioles manager John Oates into a rage. The video replay was inconclusive in determining whether the ball was fair or foul, but it seemed apparent that Milligan was safely back on the bag before Ventura pushed a glove into his chest. McKean was directly behind Ventura at the time and made no signal that Milligan was out until after he conferred with Voltaggio.
"The thing that upsets me is I'd like to see a conclusive replay, and there isn't one," McKean said. "I'd like to know if we got it right.
"Our main objective was to get it right. We start out with fair or four and the whole play starts from there. We can eliminate the play at the bag until we get fair or foul decided. I don't have to
worry about [Milligan] if it's foul."
Oates put on a show for the Memorial Stadium crowd of 25,975, earning his second ejection in six days. He was thrown out of last Tuesday night's game by Derryl Cousins for arguing balls and strikes, but never seemed to lose his temper.
This time, he looked more like former Orioles manager Earl Weaver than he might have liked, even to the point of kicking up some dirt in disgust before leaving the game.
"I have the benefit of looking at the replay," a calmer Oates said later, "and I can tell you one thing. The ball was behind the bag and it's my understanding that that is the third base umpire's call, so it should have been a foul ball.
"They put themselves in a predicament by making two calls. I think McKean had the play right in the first place."
The Orioles went much more quietly in that inning, but came back to tie the game when Milligan homered off Chicago starter Jack McDowell in the sixth inning. The White Sox took the lead again in the eighth, but Hoiles tied it with a mammoth home run off stopper Bobby Thigpen with one out in the bottom of the ninth.
Gomez has been in a lengthy slump, but he lined a forkball from Pall into the Orioles bullpen to give reliever Gregg Olson his second victory of the year.
"I was just looking for a base hit," Gomez said. "I've been struggling the past few weeks and Chris Hoiles has been swinging the bat well. I just wanted to hit a double maybe and let him drive me in."
The Orioles, Gomez said, were not distracted by the strange turn of events in the fourth inning, though the call took them out of a promising situation.
"Everybody knew it was a bad call," he said. "Everybody just pulled together. Nobody put their heads down."
Orioles right-hander Ben McDonald went nine solid innings, but was fortunate to avoid his eighth loss in 13 decisions. McDowell also came up empty after coming within two outs of becoming the major leagues' second 15-game winner.
McDonald gave up four runs on five hits and became the first Orioles pitcher to go nine innings since he did it last himself, on May 17. That was 78 games ago. But he would have been a loser if Hoiles home run had not snapped a 32 1/3 -inning scoreless string by the White Sox bullpen.
McDowell already had faced the Orioles three times this season, most recently on Aug. 3, when he gave up six runs on 10 hits over two-plus inning in a 6-3 loss at Comiskey Park.
He had won the first two games, including a 9-1 victory here on Opening Day that turned out to be a sign of things to come, but the Orioles were looking for an early knockout to even things up last night.