If nothing else, give the Orioles credit for making it a very interesting afternoon at the ballpark yesterday.
They were down by eight runs in the sixth inning. They fell victim to another monster inning. Rick Sutcliffe ran into trouble again. But they still made it interesting before the Texas Rangers finally emerged with a 10-8 victory at Camden Yards.
How interesting? Brady Anderson came up with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom of the ninth and fought off four two-strike pitches before finally lining out to center field to end the game.
How interesting? Rangers stopper Jeff Russell needed 45 pitches in the
ninth to record his 25th save. He walked Mark McLemore with the bases loaded to score a run and move the potential tying run into scoring position.
How interesting? The final half-inning lasted 31 minutes and required 16 baseballs, most of which ended up among the sellout crowd of 45,868 during a couple of lengthy at-bats by Leo Gomez (six two-strike fouls) and Brady Anderson (four).
It actually was two games in one. Sutcliffe took a one-hitter into the sixth inning before the Rangers erupted for seven runs to take an 8-0 lead. That should have been cushion enough to assure Rangers starter Bobby Witt of his ninth victory. He had given up just two hits through five innings, but the Orioles rallied to score four times in the bottom of the sixth and run him out of the game.
He eventually would get the victory, but not before the struggling Rangers bullpen gave up three runs in the eighth and one more in the ninth.
"I hope everyone got entertained today," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "I'm very disappointed that we didn't win, but I think everyone was entertained."
There could be no doubt about that. Rangers designated hitter Brian Downing continued a series-long assault on Orioles pitching with four hits and four RBI. His three-run double was the big blow in the seven-run sixth. Orioles utilityman Mark McLemore, once a teammate of Downing's with the California Angels, came into the game as a pinch hitter in the bottom of that inning and delivered a two-run triple and went on to drive in four runs in three plate appearances.
The big inning must have looked like a rerun to Sutcliffe. Lest anyone forget (Sutcliffe certainly hasn't), he was on the mound just four days earlier when the Chicago White Sox erupted in the eighth inning to score eight times and erase a five-run lead.
The only hit Sutcliffe gave up in the first five innings was a solid double to Downing to open the game. He retired 15 of the next 17 batters before the Rangers reeled off three straight hits to open the sixth.
Downing and Jeff Huson opened that inning with back-to-back singles, and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro followed with a two-run double that looked like it might be the decisive blow in a tight pitching duel. A total of 15 runs later, Sutcliffe insisted that it was the turning point in a loss that dropped his record to .500 (10-10) for the first time this season.
"Basically, I had the same problem that I had down there [in Texas]," he said. "I'm still trying to figure out how to get Palmeiro out. There were a lot of things that happened that inning that are part of the game, but he has been a tough out for me all year."
Sutcliffe also gave up an RBI single to Juan Gonzalez. He left with the Orioles down by four, but reliever Alan Mills gave up a run-scoring single to Geno Petralli and the three-run double to Downing. Downing has produced runs in each of the first three games of the series with a 7-for-12 performance that includes a home run and six RBI.
The Orioles cut the eight-run deficit in half in a hurry, but the Rangers added a couple of insurance runs off Todd Frohwirth in the eighth. Dean Palmer hit his 17th home run of the year with the bases empty and Downing added a two-out RBI single to his collection to put his team up by six.
That's when it started to get interesting. The Orioles staged a two-out rally in the bottom of the eighth to keep the Rangers in range. McLemore and Anderson each delivered run-scoring singles and Mike Devereaux added an RBI double to cut the deficit to three.
Enter Russell, who got Cal Ripken to pop up to end the inning and then embarked on one of the longest one-run innings of his career in the ninth.
"It shouldn't have been very difficult," he said. "I made it more difficult than it needed to be, but it's all right because we got it. I wasn't sharp but I made some pitches when I had to. It was a test out there."
It was a test he seemed ready to fail after Joe Orsulak's one-out double put runners at second and third. Gomez wore Russell down with a lengthy at-bat in which he fouled off six straight two-strike pitches before popping up. Pinch hitter Sam Horn also took Russell to the limit before walking to load the bases.