The Orioles couldn't pull another rabbit out of their new ballpark, so Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas took advantage of an extra at-bat to help his team pull out a rain-delayed, 4-3 victory last night at Camden Yards.
The night after the Orioles staged a last-gasp comeback against the Minnesota Twins, they rallied from a three-run deficit in the sixth inning and were in position to score another sudden-death win in the ninth. But this time, it wasn't to be.
Thomas came up in the 10th inning and hit his second home run of the game, sending relief stopper Gregg Olson to his second defeat of the season.
"It was a high fastball," Thomas said. "Most times I would have taken it, but today was one of those days when I felt I could put a good swing on anything. It started right with batting practice."
The White Sox slugger had homered earlier in the game off starter Mike Mussina. He is making a habit of going deep against Orioles pitchers, hitting seven home runs against them since the start of the 1991 season.
It didn't have to come to that. The Orioles had a runner in scoring position with one out in the ninth, but reliever Terry Leach got Sam Horn on a long fly to right and Mike Devereaux on a bouncer to third. The Orioles also had a runner at third in the 10th and came up empty.
No doubt, the crowd of 41,364 was expecting another perfect ending, but Olson made an imperfect pitch and gave up his second home run in 12 1/3 innings this year.
"I made a bad pitch," said Olson, who gave up only one home run all last season. "It was a fastball that was too far out and away. I was trying to strike him out and I tried to do too much."
The Orioles, who had rallied in the ninth to eclipse a three-run lead against the Twins on Thursday night, didn't wait as long to fight back this time. They did nothing against White Sox starter Kirk McCaskill for five innings, then scored three in the sixth, tying the game and knocking him out.
"It was exciting," manager Johnny Oates said. "We had a chance right down to the last pitch. We had the leadoff runner on in the ninth and the 10th. We kept battling back and battling back. We had some chances."
The White Sox had jumped on top in the second inning when Thomas greeted Mussina with a long home run into the right-center-field bleachers.
Mussina couldn't have been happy to see him. Thomas faced him six times last year and had five hits, including a home run that cost Mussina a 1-0 defeat in his major-league debut Aug. 4. This time, Thomas added the homer and an RBI single before his second home run left him with seven homers and 17 RBI against the Orioles in just 49 at-bats.
It still was a decent performance by Mussina, but don't try to tell him that. He is a perfectionist who takes no consolation in a quality start that doesn't end with a win.
"He's going to make the perfect father someday," Oates said. "His kid's going to go 4-for-5 in a Little League game and he'll want to know what happened in the other at-bat. If he gets away with a pitch, he's still mad at himself. He's a perfectionist, and he expects the people around him to be the same way."
The White Sox added two runs in the sixth. Tim Raines beat out a nubber for a leadoff single and scored two outs later when Thomas poked a line drive into right field. Mussina lost more ground when George Bell drove a fly ball over the head of Devereaux in deep center to score Thomas with the White Sox's third run of the game, but the Orioles took him off the hook in the bottom of the inning.
McCaskill's name became a household word around Baltimore during the Orioles' off-season pitching hunt. McCaskill was thought to be at the top of the club's list of free-agent possibilities until he canceled a scheduled trip to Baltimore in December.
The Orioles are more than satisfied with the pitchers they did acquire. Rick Sutcliffe is 4-2 with two shutouts and Storm Davis is 2-2 with a 2.55 ERA in middle relief. But Oates reaffirmed yesterday that the club had been very interested in bringing McCaskill to Baltimore.
"The question was, was he interested in us," Oates said. "We were very high on him. We were very actively after him. I know I was very interested and I was led to believe this club was very interested."
McCaskill left the California Angels after a disappointing 1991 season in which he was 10-19 with a 4.26 ERA, but that ERA would have made him one of the most efficient pitchers in last year's Orioles rotation.
The first month of the 1992 season has been no picnic, either. He lost three of his first four decisions and came into last night's game with a 5.76 ERA, but he held the Orioles scoreless until his teammates had built a 3-0 lead in the sixth inning. The game almost got away a few minutes later.
Four straight Orioles batters reached base with one out in the sixth. Joe Orsulak drove home a run with a single to center. Randy Milligan did the same. Chris Hoiles grounded into a fielder's choice to tie the game and Leo Gomez singled, knocking McCaskill out of the game.
"Out of the stretch, I just got a little quick," McCaskill said. "It's easy to speed up, but it's tough to slow down. They hit some good pitches. They hit some bad pitches, but they also hit some good pitches."
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
White Sox starter: Alex Fernandez (2-2, 3.24)
Orioles starter: Bob Milacki (1-2, 5.70)
TV: Channels 2, 20
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)
Tickets: Approximately 1,000 are left, mostly scattered singles
Promotion: Children 14 and under will receive Smokey Bear waist packs