The Baltimore Orioles had probably their final say about the outcome of the American League East race yesterday, and they closed their statement with an exclamation point.
After being shut down by two-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens, they stunned the Red Sox by overcoming a four-run, sixth-inning deficit for a 6-5 victory to split a makeup doubleheader and leave Boston 2 1/2 games behind the front-running Toronto Blue Jays.
Clemens took care of business in his 2-1 win in the opener, and the Red Sox appeared en route to a sweep after taking a 4-0 lead against Bob Milacki in the second inning of the finale.
It was the 40th time this season the Orioles had trailed by three or more runs by the fourth inning, and the game was taking on all the traits of the previous 36 losses in that situation.
But then starter Joe Hesketh's elbow began aching. The Orioles began pecking away, and Boston manager Joe Morgan stuck with reliever Greg Harris.
By the bottom of the ninth, the game was getting away, and ace Boston closer Jeff Reardon was sitting idly by, still troubled by a strain in his shoulder.
In the end, Harris couldn't hold on, issuing a game-tying single to Cal Ripken, then a game-winning, bases-loaded walk to Dwight Evans after previously walking Randy Milligan. He threw four pitches to each of the final two hitters.
Harris had undergone similar trouble two innings earlier, when three walks and a wild pitch had helped the Orioles to their fourth run.
"He was the best I had," said Morgan. "I was going with him all the way. He had plenty of rest, but he didn't get much help on some of those pitches."
The reference was to the umpiring by Vic Voltaggio, which Harris didn't mind questioning in the strongest terms.
"It started about the eighth inning," said Harris. "The sucker didn't call any strikes. He'd been calling them all day, but I was getting squeezed. If they didn't swing, he wasn't calling it.
"I wasn't going to throw it right down the middle. I had a good breaking ball, and it wasn't getting called. I wasn't that bad. It was very frustrating, but I just didn't change my pattern. I figured if he saw enough of those breaking balls, he'd realize they were strikes."
It didn't help Harris that when Mike Devereaux swung in the ninth, he hit a two-out pop-up into shallow center field that fell for a single to prolong the inning.
Steve Lyons was playing deep in center, and the infielders couldn't get there, either.
"The wind killed it," said Morgan. "One of those lucky hits."
Clemens said that "sparked the Orioles a little bit."
"One more step and I probably get it," said Lyons. "It was perfectly placed."
Ripken followed with a single to left, Milligan and Evans walked, and the Red Sox went on to Milwaukee having lost ground this week.
Evans, who played for the Red Sox from 1972 until he was released after last season, wished them luck. "I don't have any animosity toward them," he said. "Now, that they're gone, I'm for them. I played for some loyal fans up there, and they deserve a world championship, however it comes."
On a northern California-like fall day, the crowd was split, with about half rooting for the Red Sox.
Evans was just pleased "that we really came back this time. We've only done this a few times . . . and I mean few."
Orioles manager John Oates was talking about his team "still playing to the last out of a doubleheader. We have no place to go in the standings and it's easy to fold it up. We kept battling."
Ripken's 32nd homer started the comeback, and he also applauded the team's effort. "We scratched and clawed. The ball bounced our way. We were lucky it happened for us in the late innings," he said.
Nine of the past 12 Orioles games have been decided by one run, and this was only the second loss by the Red Sox in that situation in their past 11. It was a tough way to say goodbye to Memorial Stadium, where Boston finished with a 156-161 all-time mark.
"There's not a whole lot of room for error when you're trying to catch somebody," said Clemens. "We'll probably lose a few more before this is over, but, hopefully, it won't be enough to hurt us."
Lyons said: "I can't see us losing more than two games the rest of the way and still having a chance. I don't think Toronto is just going to fold up."
Said Harris: "Two losses max. We have to go 8-2 or 9-1, something like that."
Boston is 6-0 against the Milwaukee Brewers, its next opponent, but Morgan said "that means absolutely nothing."
Dave Johnson, the hard-luck loser to Clemens in the opener, said he was grateful that the Orioles derailed the Boston drive with two wins in the three-game series.
"If they're going to win a pennant, let them do it on somebody else's turf," he said. "Not ours. Our guys have a lot of pride."