MINNEAPOLIS -- It was a crushing blow. Chili Davis, three batters away from the plate when the Minnesota Twins were down to their last out yesterday, hit a line drive that pierced the Orioles as deep as any hit this season.
His bases-loaded single off Gregg Olson in the bottom of the 15th inning brought the Twins from behind to score a 3-2 victory that evened the three-game series at the Metrodome at a game apiece.
Davis didn't figure to see the artificial light of day after Olson struck out the first two batters in the 15th, but Chuck Knoblauch and Kirby Puckett each slapped opposite-field singles to right and Kent Hrbek walked to bring Davis up for what amounted to a double match point.
The Orioles had been locked in a stare-down with the Twins for about 4 1/2 hours before second baseman Mark McLemore drilled a run-scoring single to center in the top of the 15th to give them a 2-1 lead.
That figured to be enough with one of the game's best relief stoppers waiting to work. The Twins appeared to be on their way to a marathon defeat that would have pushed them to the brink of a rare home sweep, but they have a way of wiggling off the hook here.
"We played a good game," said a stoic Olson, who came within one strike of his 22nd save on a couple of occasions. "We came down to the final at-bat with a chance to win, and I failed to do
Olson didn't blame himself for the first two hits he surrendered. Knoblauch reached out and poked a 2-2 pitch to right that barely cleared the glove of a leaping McLemore. Puckett is Puckett, leading the American League with a .345 batting average. Hrbek jumped ahead 3-0 on the count, but his at-bat came down to a full-count curveball that missed inside.
"I made good pitches to all of the above," Olson said. "I can't undo any of it now."
The Twins never have been kind to Olson, who recorded a save against them earlier this year but owns a 2-4 career record against them and a 7.31 lifetime ERA. The three hits in two thirds of an inning yesterday gave the Twins 27 hits in 16 innings against him.
It was hardly a fitting end to an impressive pitching performance by the Orioles. Right-hander Todd Frohwirth pitched five shutout innings after the game was out of regulation. Alan Mills already had pitched four innings of no-hit relief after replacing starter Storm Davis in the sixth.
"The pitching was outstanding," said manager Johnny Oates. "If we had done some of the little things earlier in the game, maybe we wouldn't have had to play that long."
There were too many opportunities to be satisfied with one run in the extra innings. The Orioles left 10 men on base in extra innings and 17 overall.
McLemore finally brought home the tie-breaking run with his third hit of the game, but the Orioles had to know that a one-run lead was far from safe against the top-hitting team in the major leagues.
"It [the hit] helped," McLemore said, "but we knew we had to throw some leather out there in the bottom of the inning. We
weren't too high. We've all been through this before. We've won games like that. They just got it done today."
They tried to play down the disappointment. Nine innings of scoreless relief went to waste along with a solid performance by Davis and a number of promising scoring opportunities.
"They're all tough," first baseman Randy Milligan said. "I'm not going to say it's the toughest loss of the season. There have been others. It was a great game with a lot of great pitching and a lot of missed opportunities."
Davis made his first start as an Oriole since Aug. 29, 1986, and it was a good one. He gave up a run on five hits over five innings before Oates decided he had gone far enough for his first time in the rotation.
He worked with men on base in four of his five innings, but the only Twins run scored on a bases-empty home run by right fielder Gene Larkin in the second inning. The Orioles came back to tie the game in the fifth on a leadoff single by Leo Gomez and a two-out hit by Brady Anderson.
The rest of the game was a study in how to pitch effectively in one of the best hitting parks in baseball. Mills, who had moved up in the bullpen pecking order to take over the role vacated by Davis, was overpowering for four innings. Frohwirth took over in the 10th and set down the Twins on three hits over the next five innings.
Twins starter Scott Erickson also pitched impressively, a switch from his previous appearance against the Orioles this year. He gave up five runs over 5 1/3 innings in an April 28 loss at the Metrodome and entered yesterday's start with a 1-3 record and a 5.06 lifetime ERA against the Orioles.
This time, he worked nine strong innings, giving up a run on eight hits before giving way to a parade of Twins relievers. Tom Edens survived three walks to pitch a scoreless 10th. Mark Guthrie worked 1 1/3 innings before leaving with the bases loaded in the 11th. Stopper Rick Aguilera came on to get the Twins out of that jam and turned the game over to Gary Wayne.