ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Orioles got another strong performance from the starting rotation last night, but it took some late-inning heroics from slumping shortstop Cal Ripken to send them to Chicago on the crest of a three-game winning streak.
Ripken, who came into the game in a 4-for-49 slump, helped bring the club from behind with a two-out RBI single in the eighth, then hit a sacrifice fly in the 10th to drive home the decisive run in a tense, 3-2 victory at Arlington Stadium.
Left-hander Arthur Rhodes gave up just two hits over seven innings, but was fortunate to get off without a loss after the Rangers scratched out two runs in the seventh to break a scoreless tie. The Orioles would rally to tie the game on Ripken's hit and a costly error by Rangers third baseman Dean Palmer, turning the game into a battle of the bullpens.
Advantage Orioles. Right-hander Todd Frohwirth pitched three innings of one-hit relief to earn the victory. Left-hander Pat Clements came on to get a crucial double-play ball in the 10th. And Gregg Olson, making his first appearance since suffering a muscle strain in his side 11 days ago, got the final out to record his 22nd save.
It wasn't exactly a fitting end. Rhodes and Rangers starter Todd Burns had pitched their hearts out, only to be left behind when the game pushed into the late innings. Rhodes carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before he gave up a couple of no-out hits and broke a 25-inning Rangers scoreless streak with a balk.
That's right. The Rangers hadn't scored since the series opener on Thursday. They had not had a hit since the second inning of Saturday night's game. Rafael Palmeiro finally broke the 12-inning hitless streak with a single and Ruben Sierra followed with a double before Rhodes ended his bid for a shutout with a fidget. Juan Gonzalez drove home the second run of the inning with a sacrifice fly.
Burns surrendered four hits and two walks over seven innings, but also settled for a no-decision when the Orioles rallied for two runs in the eighth. Ripken drove home a run with a single off stopper Jeff Russell, and the Orioles tied the game when Palmer could not handle a sharp, two-out grounder by Glenn Davis.
The Rangers were ripe for the picking. They managed just three hits in all and set a club record for fewest hits over three consecutive games (six).
The Rangers had to be shaking their heads in disbelief after the first inning. They had been overpowered by Mike Mussina on Friday night and beguiled by Ben McDonald on Saturday. They had seen the two best starting pitchers in the Orioles organization, and Rhodes was throwing much harder than either one.
Rhodes struggled to gain his composure at the outset. He walked the first two batters he faced in the first inning, which left him looking down the barrel at the heart of a very formidable Rangers lineup. Then he struck out Palmeiro, Sierra and Gonzalez like they were so many Triple-A hitters.
His fastball was sailing all over the place in the early innings. He walked the first two batters of the second before getting three fly ball outs and walked the leadoff batter in the third before retiring the next three batters. It wasn't until the fourth that the Rangers went down in order.
Burns was even more effective. He retired the first eight batters he faced before walking Jeff Tackett with two out in the third. The Orioles added a single in the fourth, but didn't threaten until Joe Orsulak led off the fifth with a double to left.
Orsulak tagged up and went to third on a fly ball by Leo Gomez, but the Orioles came up empty on a pair of squeeze-bunt attempts by Bill Ripken.
Ripken appeared to drop a perfect bunt in front of the plate as Orsulak steamed home, but the ball had so much spin on it that it took a hard left when it hit the grass and kicked foul. Manager Johnny Oates called for the squeeze on the following pitch and Ripken popped it up in front of the plate. Catcher Ivan Rodriguez sprinted out to catch the ball and then jogged all the way to third to complete the unassisted double play.
The Rangers finally broke through in the sixth, breaking up the no-hitter and the shutout before the first out of the inning. Palmeiro delivered the first hit, a sharp one-hopper that skipped past first baseman Randy Milligan. Sierra followed with a line drive down the left-field line to put runners at second and third.
Rhodes brought home the first run with a balk. He stepped back off the rubber to wipe his face, but second-base umpire Terry Cooney ruled that he had moved toward the plate first. Oates argued the call, but to no avail. Gonzalez followed with a fly ball to left to bring home Sierra.
Burns came into the game winless in his previous four starts, and he was facing an Orioles roster that entered the evening with a combined .306 average against him, but none of that seemed to matter. He was not unhittable -- there were runners on base in five straight innings after the second -- but he never allowed more than one hitter to reach base in any of them.