The Minnesota Twins had this one all wrapped up. Bill Krueger tied the Orioles in knots for seven innings and stopper Rick Aguilera was in to tie up the loose ends. But that was before they fell victim to the curse of Camden Yards.
The Orioles have been nearly unbeatable in their new ballpark, and last night they staged a comeback to rival anything that happened during the "Why Not?" season of 1989. They scored four times in the ninth inning off one of the best relievers in the game for a heart-stopping, 5-4 victory.
Aguilera brought home the decisive run with a wild pitch -- which was almost anticlimactic after the series of events that brought the Orioles offense out of a six-inning funk.
Krueger had held them to a run on four hits over seven innings and seemed certain to run his record to 5-0 once Aguilera entered the game to protect a three-run lead in the eighth. But nothing comes easy for the opposition at Oriole Park, where the home team improved to 12-2.
How improbable was it?
The rally started with the first base hit by Glenn Davis since he returned from a month on the disabled list, but even that was not cut and dried. Late-inning defensive replacement Jarvis Brown broke back on his soft fly ball and could not recover in time to make the catch.
First baseman Randy Milligan followed with a double to right, and David Segui brought home a run with the Orioles' third consecutive hit. That brought the potential winning run to the plate in the form of pinch hitter Sam Horn, but manager Johnny Oates didn't stop there. He sent Mark McLemore in to pinch run for Segui, and both moves paid off.
Horn dropped behind on the count, but fought back to 3-2 before dropping a soft single into left, scoring Milligan. McLemore raced around second and dug for third, barely beating the one-hop throw from left fielder Shane Mack. Horn was right behind him, moving into scoring position at second before giving way to a pinch runner himself.
"Everyone has been chipping in," said Horn, who has had big hits in each of the past three games. "I just wanted to be productive."
Joe Orsulak ran for Horn and Brady Anderson was walked intentionally to bring up Tim Hulett, but Oates continued to push buttons furiously. He sent up left-handed-hitting Chito Martinez, who hit a soft bouncer to second that scored McLemore with the tying run.
That wasn't quite so simple either. Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch charged the ball and appeared to have a chance to get McLemore at the plate, but he pumped toward home and then took the out at first.
Aguilera had little choice but to walk Cal Ripken intentionally, setting up the possibility of the double play for cleanup hitter Mike Devereaux, who didn't end up hitting the ball. Aguilera bounced a 2-2 pitch past catcher Brian Harper, and Orsulak raced home to join a victory celebration.
"To be down three runs to their closer and come back is really something," Anderson said. "That probably won't happen to Aguilera the rest of the year."
The Orioles and those who remained of the crowd of 39,253 knew that something very special just had occurred. In fact, the last time the Orioles had won with four in the bottom of the ninth was July 11, 1985.
"The first thing I saw when I came off the field was a sign that said, 'We believe,' " Horn said. "That really helps."
Davis, who had struggled in his first three at-bats, needed something to hang the rest of his season on, even if it was a soft fly ball that just happened to drop in front of a disoriented outfielder.
"After my first three at-bats, I was feeling pretty down," he said. "Then I said to myself, 'You're going to get one more at-bat. Keep your head up.' I was able to help out. It wasn't pretty, but I got on base and started the rally.
"It made me feel like I'm part of the team. When you're hurt, you feel like the invisible man."
It was a good night all around for the Davis clan. Storm Davis (2-2) pitched a scoreless ninth and was credited with the victory.
Perhaps the happiest man in the crowd should have been starter Rick Sutcliffe, who was knocked out of the game in a four-run fifth that shattered his aura of invincibility at the new ballpark. He came into the game with a 3-0 record and an 0.70 ERA at Camden Yards, but left the game looking at the likelihood of his second loss to the Twins in 10 days.
Krueger defeated Sutcliffe and the Orioles, 4-1, on April 27 at the Metrodome, giving up two hits over eight innings on the way to his fourth victory. In their second look, the Orioles could squeeze just one run out of him.
"When you're facing a good pitcher, it doesn't matter how many times you look at him," Oates said. "You either get him or you don't. He's throwing the ball very well."
Nevertheless, the Orioles jumped on top early. Milligan started a two-out rally in the second inning with a long double and scored when Bill Ripken pulled a ground ball through the left side of the infield.
But one run would not be enough. Sutcliffe, who had given up two runs in 25 2/3 innings in his three previous starts at Oriole Park, carried a shutout into the fifth, but never made it to the sixth. The Twins rallied for four runs on three hits and two walks to force him out of the game.