Orioles are getting in the streaking spirit

JOHN EISENBERG

August 05, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

The Orioles won their fifth straight game last night and suddenly they are closing in on the Blue Jays, and you have to look closely, but it has the phosphorescent markings of a ghost story.

You will notice that, in the last few days, everything suddenly is breaking right for the Orioles after three months of pedestrian baseball. It is more than just Arthur Rhodes' fastball and Glenn Davis' home runs. It is missing Roger Clemens by a day and the Blue Jays getting him instead. It is the Tigers coming to town offering three starters so tender and beatable that the commissioner could almost investigate.

It is that videotape of the Jays' Cito Gaston and Juan Guzman standing there arguing on the mound Monday night in Boston, evidence that there is still some Blow Jay in the Blue Jays.

For a team that was muddling along as recently as last weekend, not that far from falling out of the race, the Orioles suddenly are in possession of some very hot circumstances.

This is where you can begin believing in ghosts, if the spirit so moves you. (Ha!)

See, something happened to the Orioles last Friday night in Fenway Park. Something invisible, but obviously profound. Something that turned their luck from dark to dazzling.

Maybe you do not believe there is a place for such whimsy in baseball. Maybe you do not believe that anything that happens in one game can make a difference in a 162-game season. You were not there Friday night.

"A very, very big night," the Orioles' Randy Milligan said after the 6-3 win last night before the customary sellout at Camden Yards. was the night we got those thousand-pound weights off our backs."

The Orioles and the Red Sox were in the fifth inning of the second game of a day-night doubleheader. It was a perfect night for a ghost story. The wind began kicking up. You could smell the hard rain that was about to fall. Stephen King, a Sox ticket-holder, was sitting in a box seat.

The Orioles had already blown a lead and lost the day game, giving them two straight losses and 23 in 41 games. Their night-game starter was rookie Richie Lewis, who allowed 11 base runners in 4 1/3 innings. Somehow, the Orioles still had a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the fifth.

Rain began falling lightly, then harder and harder. The wind was swirling. The forecast was for a long night of heavy thunderstorms. It was obvious the game would be stopped any minute, and not resume.

Of course, a five-inning game would be official. Anything less would not count. This is where it gets eerie. The Red Sox loaded the bases. There were two outs -- one to go. One Sox run would tie the game and, given the imminent rain, another would win it. The Sox's John Marzano hit a hard but routine ground ball to the Orioles' Leo Gomez. He fumbled it.

If Gomez failed to make the play, a Sox runner would cross the plate, the score would be tied and, with the rain coming, the Orioles would have no chance to win. But the Sox would: Wade Boggs would be batting with the bases loaded. It could be a two-loss day for the Orioles against the faltering Sox, the psychological nadir of their months of miseries.

"It would have hurt bad," Milligan said.

Gomez groped for the ball on the dirt. He grabbed it. He was on his knees near third base. He reached for the base to force the runner. The runner, Jody Reed, beat him to the bag by a sliver of a second. At least that was what the replays seemed to indicated.

Tie? No.

The third-base umpire, Don Denkinger, called Reed out.

The only thing missing was an ominous crack of thunder.

It was ghosts.

Had to be.

The inning was over. The game was official -- and over. It started pouring three minutes later. A loss had become a win. The Orioles had split a doubleheader instead of losing two.

They have not lost since, winning four games by a combined 23-10 score. As the little girl said in the movie "Poltergeist": "They'rrre back."

Can a season really turn on such a night? Are you kidding? Milligan just shook his head last night.

"That play with Gomie . . ."

He smiled. Chuckled. Did he have to say it?

"Everyone in here felt like that was moment our luck changed," he said. "It seemed like it had been a long time that we hadn't been getting calls like that. Or any breaks. Then we got that call and had won, and it felt like all this weight had been lifted from our shoulders. And then you start to win and get confident."

The Orioles would have been 5 1/2 games out had they lost that game; today they are 2 1/2 out. Rick Sutcliffe pitched his best game in a month last night. Billy is the hot Ripken. The Indians are coming to Camden Yards this weekend. Something happened that night in Boston. If you look closely, you can see the glow.

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