O's loss sobering, but no hangover?

JOHN EISENBERG

September 08, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

At the end of the long, warm night, after 13 innings and 244 minutes and 378 pitches and a couple of Houdini escapes and a finish that pushed 45,903 fans into the parking lots in silence, there was the sight of Randy Milligan in a clubhouse full of tired Orioles, affixing the events of the evening with this label: "Not a hangover game."

Not?

Not one of those losses that linger, and multiply into more losses?

It is a question integral to the Orioles' hopes of catching the Blue Jays. The answer will come quickly. Like, tonight.

"We should be fine," Milligan said after the 6-2 loss to the Yankees in a game that changed colors a half-dozen times. "We've been battling back from tough losses all year. No reason to stop now."

It is true that every team runs across at least a couple of jaw-dropping losses somewhere in the long season. It also is true that the Orioles, in the course of their surprising grab for a division title, have run across more than their share.

You remember 'em, right? Everyone does. The Stephen King weekend in Minnesota around July 4. Baseball as slash movie. The Friday night, 13-inning loss to Cleveland last month at Camden Yards? The club was still feeling it a week later. Same with the Saturday night loss in Kansas City last month.

The plain truth was that, in each case, the Orioles had trouble shaking the memory of a loss that should not have been. Losing streaks, or at least passages of dull, mediocre baseball, ensued in each case. The tough losses jump-started the process.

Maybe it is the fact that the Orioles are basically young and still new to this business of contending. Or maybe it is just the way they are. Who knows? Call Oprah. The only certainty is that it happened, and now there is threat of it happening again.

For the longest time last night, see, it appeared this was one of those nights on which the Orioles could win the division. Not literally, of course. But they had flown all night to get back from California, and the game had started 90 minutes early because of Labor Day, and everyone was beat, and the Yankees were throwing their best pitcher. But the Orioles kept hanging around. Sure, you could win the division on such a night, stealing a game that would come in very handy when it was time to tote up the wins in October.

It was just that the Orioles were never ahead the entire night. And that they never did figure out Yankees starter Melido Perez.

And it was just that the Yankees had so many chances to win long before they finally did, and the Orioles kept fending them off.

There was the top of the ninth, with the score tied at 2-2, when Gregg Olson came on and threw a ball four that hit the screen on the fly and another ball four to the ninth man in the order. Bases loaded, two outs. But then Olson got Bernie Williams to line out. One escape.

Then there was the top of the 11th, when the Yankees put runners on first and third with one out against Alan Mills, and Andy Stankiewicz blasted a ball down the left-field line -- foul by inches -- and then bounced into a fielder's choice in which the lead runner was thrown out. Then Pat Kelly hit a looping drive to right that looked like a hit, but Mark McLemore ran it down. Two escapes.

"I thought we played a hell of a game, to be honest," Milligan said. "You fly all night, get home at 3:30 in the morning, can't get to sleep until 6, and then you're up at noon to get here for an early game. Yet all we needed was a break or a call and we would have won."

The wrong kind of break finally broke open the game in the 13th, when Mills walked in a run with a ball four to Stankiewicz that appeared to be over the plate. Umpire Ken Kaiser said no.

"He said he thought it was high," catcher Chris Hoiles said.

And did you tell him where you thought it was?

"I'm not gonna answer that one," Hoiles said.

Anyway, the Yankees finally had the lead at 3-2, and then the narrowness of it all became moot when Bernie Williams cleared the bases with a triple.

The game was over a half-inning later, and then the Orioles were back in their clubhouse looking very ready to go home and sleep.

"I was a little tired tonight myself," manager Johnny Oates said. "I was dragging a little bit."

So was his club. Yet after McLemore's running catch in the 11th, there was the tantalizing feeling that it was a night the Orioles were meant to win. Then they lost.

But it was not a hangover loss, Milligan said.

Not . . .

We shall see.

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