The crowd of 36,202 was uneasy when Baltimore Orioles manager John Oates went to the mound in the ninth inning yesterday.
Anticipating that starting pitcher Mike Mussina would be pulled, the fans booed. Only 17 hours before, the Orioles bullpen had blown a ninth-inning lead, and the fans did not want to see a rerun.
But, this time, all worked out for the best. Mussina faced one more batter, yielding a single to Chuck Knoblauch, then Minnesota Twins-killer Todd Frohwirth submarined them into submission.
The reliever threw a double-play ball to Al Newman and caught pinch hitter Gene Larkin's game-ending line drive to preserve a 7-3 Orioles victory. It climaxed a weekend of tight, tough baseball during which the Orioles' Joe Orsulak extended his hitting streak to 21 games.
"I'm glad they're leaving town," Oates said of the Twins, who have the best record in the major leagues (75-51). "You're sitting there with a four-run lead in the ninth, and you never know what's going to happen.
"They're an explosive club, and they have that we're-going-to-win attitude. That's what I desire for this club."
The Orioles had it this weekend, taking the Twins into the ninth of every game with chances to win.
Yesterday, they roughed up Scott Erickson, who is tied for the major-league lead with 16 victories, knocking him out with four- and three-run rallies in consecutive innings.
Leo Gomez, Chito Martinez and Randy Milligan contributed key doubles in the rallies, with Milligan's launching a three-run fifth that put the game away.
"That was big from a momentum standpoint," said Milligan, who is hitting .349 with runners in scoring position. "They were starting to make a run, and we came right back.
"Hey, these guys are tough. They don't stop; they just keep pecking away at you. Any time they get a leadoff man on base, you start to feel antsy."
That's what happened in the ninth when Mike Pagliarulo blooped a single to left. Oates emerged from the dugout with a chat with Mussina. The fans expressed their dissatisfaction.
"I had not made my mind up," said Oates. "I was on the teeter board for only the second time this year. I told him, 'Convince me.' If there was any doubt, Frohwirth would have been in the game right there.
"He told me, 'I can get two [a double play].' It didn't work out that way, but in that situation, I'm going to give him one more hitter."
Knoblauch was batting for Junior Ortiz and singled on a 1-2 pitch. Enter Frohwirth, who had retired all 15 Twins he has faced this season.
That streak ended when he walked Dan Gladden with two out, but Frohwirth escaped without undue trouble.
"It was nice he had the confidence to leave me out there," said Mussina. "I told him I thought I could get two."
In his first start against Minnesota, Mussina threw 132 pitches and was in major difficulty in only one inning, the fifth, when he allowed two runs and two men stole bases.
"I was a little upset that inning," he said. "I wasn't making good pitches and got frustrated."
Conversely, Erickson struggled in the middle innings, as he has since returning from the disabled list July 15. An elbow injury prevented him from starting the All-Star Game.
In his past 10 starts, he has a 7.83 ERA and he has permitted 54 hits in his past 39 2/3 innings.
"I couldn't tell the difference," said Milligan. "His sinker looked as hard and as good as it did earlier. But hitters learn after the first go-round what a pitcher will try to beat them with."
The Twins said the problem is location and impatience, not stuff.
"He pitched up in the strike zone and he got hammered," said manager Tom Kelly. "You can't do that in this league. And it looked like he got in a big hurry and could make a pitch to get out of trouble."
Erickson said: "It's hard to notice when you're out there, but I was pushing it a little bit. The elbow feels fine. I've just made some bad pitches that cost me.
"With the bases loaded, I threw the ball right into the power. That's something you can't do and win."
Singles by Orsulak, Glenn Davis and Martinez, a walk, a two-run double by Gomez and Bob Melvin's sacrifice fly accounted for the first four Orioles runs.
Doubles by Orsulak, Milligan and Martinez, a walk and a wild pitch took care of the final three and the Twins.
Mussina said he has to "work on" his high pitch counts. "If I throw a good one on the outside corner, I try to throw a better one. I kind of have to settle myself down."
Oates said: "He's not a 130-pitch pitcher through eight innings. Sometimes I think his control is too good. A lot of times he has two strikes and then tries to get outs without throwing another one."
Oates said he has to have a conversation with Mussina about not having to throw a perfect pitch to every hitter.
But that is a minor adjustment for the Orioles' No. 1 1990 draft choice, who had the crowd solidly in his corner yesterday.