DETROIT -- The Baltimore Orioles were striving for their first winning month since July 1990 last night, but it was the wrong place at the wrong time and with a pitcher who had the wrong stuff.
With Ernie Harwell broadcasting his final home game behind them, the Detroit Tigers gave their beloved announcer and 11,824 fans a rousing Tiger Stadium send-off.
They brought out the long-distance lumber and finished with a 49-32 record at home, second best in the American League, by pounding Dave Johnson and the Orioles, 8-3, sending Baltimore to its 90th loss of the season.
By the fourth inning, the Tigers had three homers and six runs off Johnson, who had never lost to them and was coming off a 2-1 loss to the league's best pitcher, Roger Clemens.
"What's there to talk about?" Johnson asked. "I was just terrible. One game I throw well and the next game I have no idea. I just
Orioles manager John Oates said: "The long ball hurt him again, and we didn't score any runs for him. We just didn't hit the ball well."
The reason for that was former Orioles farmhand Mark Leiter, who allowed only four base-runners and a single run -- on Chito Martinez's first homer since Sept. 9 -- until the ninth inning.
He weakened to permit two more runs, one on Martinez's triple, but still managed his first complete game, a testimony to his perseverance.
Leiter was released by the Orioles in June 1988 after a three-year bout with shoulder trouble. He underwent surgery three times in 17 months and his career appeared over. During the layoff, he worked temporarily as a prison guard in New Jersey.
"Some of our guys remember him at our major-league camp picking up balls," said Oates. "He couldn't even throw one, so he did all the shagging. But this shows you again that hard work pays off."
In their 80th victory, the Tigers scored all they needed in the first inning on two-run homers by Pete Incaviglia and former Oriole Mickey Tettleton, his 30th homer.
Those shots pushed them past 200 homers for the fourth time, something no other major-league team has accomplished.
"All I do is go out there and throw thigh-high fastballs that just stay there," said Johnson. "And if I throw it where I want to, it doesn't move. Physically, I feel great in the bullpen, then I go into the game and I have nothing."
Johnson allowed a major-league high 30 homers last season, but still finished as the team's top winner because 20 of them came with the bases empty. This year he has been racked for 16 in only 79 innings and many of them have hurt him badly.
"It's a crazy year. I pitch bad and I get clobbered. I pitch good and I still lose," he lamented. "I just can't seem to get everything going."
It was the 41st game in which the Orioles have been down by three or more runs before the fourth inning and the 37th defeat in that situation.
Lou Whitaker cracked the third homer off Johnson, a two-run blast in the fourth. After a walk to Incaviglia, Johnson was gone in favor of Anthony Telford, who finished in respectable style.
But Leiter wasn't yielding after losing his last four starts and went on to a career high nine strikeouts and his first victory since Sept. 1.
"The win was very important," he said. "I was starting to get down on myself. This was probably the most I wanted to win a game this year."
"When he wanted to reach back, it was there," said Oates. "He had good velocity and threw a lot of strikes.
"We've been in that early situation a number of times this year and we've fought back to get close or even. But tonight, Leiter made it too little, too late."
The Orioles thus finished September with a 13-14 record and fell out of a fifth-place tie with the New York Yankees, who beat Cleveland.
Cal Ripken had two singles, but did not knock in a run and finished the series with 11 RBI, still tops in his career. The team equaled its season best with a 93rd errorless game.
The crowd chanted "Ernie and Paul" in the final inning, referring to Harwell and Paul Carey, his announcing partner, who both leave after this season.
Everything pointed to a Tigers victory from the start. It just wasn't the Orioles' night.
Tigers first: Phillips grounded out to second baseman B.Ripken. Whitaker singled to center. Incaviglia homered to right center on 0-1 count, Whitaker and Incaviglia scored. Fielder walked. Tettleton homered down the right field line on 3-1 count, Fielder and Tettleton scored. Bergman lined out to first baseman Davis. Fryman flied out to center fielder Devereaux. 4 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 0 left on. Tigers 4, Orioles 0.
Tigers fourth: Barnes lined out to left fielder Orsulak. Hare grounded out to second baseman B.Ripken. Phillips singled to center. Whitaker homered to right on 0-0 count, Phillips and Whitaker scored. Incaviglia walked. Telford relieved Johnson. Fielder singled to left, Incaviglia to second. Tettleton struck out. 2 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Tigers 6, Orioles 0.