CHICAGO -- Remember Minnesota?
Remember the back-to-back nightmarish last-inning losses to the Twins that interrupted a good run by the Orioles just a little more than two weeks ago?
If so, you can consider the scales balanced after what has taken place the last two nights -- especially the most recent comeback. For the second game in a row, the Orioles erased a late-inning 2-0 deficit, this time in the ninth inning, to escape with a 3-2 win.
Two nights ago, the Texas Rangers fell in 10 innings; last night, the Chicago White Sox postponed the verdict until the 12th inning. It was former White Sox infielder Tim Hulett who drove in the winning run off Roberto Hernandez (3-2) -- and compared the Orioles' last two wins to the 3-2 and 2-1 setbacks they suffered in Minnesota.
"You look back on those games and think they would've been great to win," said Hulett. "These two wins were a lot like those games."
Except this time the Orioles came away on the long end of the scores.
"Those games [in Minnesota] hurt us," admitted Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "What you'd like to think is that these two will help more than those two hurt.
"This was as excited as this club has gotten after a win all year. You could hear the difference in the clubhouse."
The exuberance hardly bothered Oates, a strong believer in the "don't get too high when you win, or too low when you lose" theory. "Listen," he said, nodding toward the clubhouse, "they're over it already."
Not quite. Only 24 hours after one of their biggest wins of the year, over the Rangers, the Orioles were celebrating another improbable triumph -- in a game they knew, deep down, they had little reason to expect to win. The fact that Toronto lost, 5-3, to the Angels only made the win that much sweeter.
"It's good to get a little of that confidence that you can come back and win in the late innings," said veteran catcher Rick Dempsey, who was on the field at the conclusion of both games. "It's a good feeling."
The gods of modern baseball strategy gave the Orioles a chance to beat the White Sox last night, and everybody in the clubhouse knew it. They wouldn't flat out second-guess White Sox manager Gene Lamont's decision to remove Charlie Hough at the start of the ninth inning -- but nobody was sorry to see the 44-year-old knuckleballer leave.
And that, most definitely, included Oates. "I wouldn't want to have to play if we had to face Roger Clemens," he said, "but I'd rather our team hit against him than Hough.
"I've got statistics for hitters I want against every pitcher -- but I don't have anybody I want to send up there against him. Six of the nine guys [in the lineup] are under .200. We can't get the ball out of the infield against him.
"I don't ever throw in the towel, but that game looked like it was over. You couldn't figure out how you were going to get two runs off him [Hough]."
Fortunately for Oates, and the Orioles, they didn't have to try. The only batter in the lineup who had solved Hough, Brady Anderson, was the leadoff hitter in the ninth inning. He had two of the four hits Hough had allowed -- and was the reason Lamont decided to entrust the game to his bullpen.
"I didn't want Charlie to face Brady, who had some success against him," explained Lamont.
That rationale removed a pitcher who had a four-hit shutout through eight innings and had faced only 22 batters, one over the minimum, in the previous seven innings. The strategy backfired big time, though again the Orioles needed a smile from Lady Luck to pull off their second straight comeback.
Anderson reached on a error by shortstop Craig Grebeck -- a close play at first base that had Lamont ranting at umpire Jim Evans.
"That's the first time Brady has ever gotten on base against Radinsky [left-hander Scott Radinsky, who replaced Hough specifically to face the left-handed-hitting Anderson]," said Oates.
Bobby Thigpen was next and before the White Sox closer got out of the inning he had his seventh blown save of the year -- his fourth in relief of Hough. Mike Devereaux was hit by an 0-and-2 pitch (which Thigpen bitterly claimed hit the bat, not the center fielder's hand).
After Cal Ripken just missed hammering a high fastball, flying out to left field, Glenn Davis and Randy Milligan followed with clutch hits to tie the game. Three innings later, Milligan started the winning rally with a walk and went to third on Joe Orsulak's double.
When Leo Gomez struck out, Lamont was faced with yet another decision -- pitch to Hulett or walk him to load the bases and set up a possible double play with Dempsey the next hitter. But this definitely wasn't the White Sox manager's night to be making decisions.
After falling behind 0-and-2, Hulett fouled off four pitches in a gritty at-bat before lining a single to left field to drive in the winning run. Naturally, Dempsey then grounded into a double play to end the inning.