Go-and-stop Orioles run out of chances to make race of it

September 23, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

With all due respect to Yogi Berra, sometimes it is over before it's over.

Baseball's popular professor of possibilities would agree with the mathematicians who could prove that the Orioles still have a chance to win the American League's Eastern Division title. But Yogi's famous phrase -- "it ain't over til it's over" -- has a hollow sound today.

The gut-wrenching, 4-3 loss to the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays that ended early this morning didn't officially eliminate the Orioles. But it did relegate them to a bystander's role with 12 games left in the season.

It wasn't so much what happened to the Orioles last night/this morning that left such an empty feeling. Rather, it was how it happened, a deja vu scenario repeated too many times this highly successful, yet frustrating season.

Twice in the last two innings the Orioles had the tying run on third base with one out. The first time they gambled and lost. The second time they didn't gamble -- and lost again.

It wasn't a pretty night -- a 2-hour and 42-minute rain delay served as a preliminary to the game -- or a pretty sight. Especially for Cal Ripken Sr.

The third-base coach appeared to be the man in the middle for the controversial decisions in the last two innings. In actuality, only the one in the ninth inning was his. But that was the one those around for the conclusion were talking about when they exited Camden Yards.

In the eighth inning, Brady Anderson was thrown out at the plate on a grounder hit to third baseman Kelly Gruber by Cal Ripken Jr. It was no contest, and the matter was complicated when Anderson couldn't get into a rundown that would've allowed Ripken to reach second base -- where he could have scored the tying run when Glenn Davis followed with a single.

"I'm the one who called that play," manager Johnny Oates said of the decision to send Anderson. "We had the 'contact' play on, and he [Anderson] was going full bore. He didn't have a chance to pull up and get in a rundown.

"The way we've been hitting, I just thought it was time to gamble. We were gambling that the ball wouldn't be hit right at somebody. A few feet either way, and he scores," said Oates.

"When you get into the eighth and ninth innings against them, you know you're going to face [Duane] Ward and [Tom] Henke. When we had the chance in the eighth we shot the whole thing to try and win."

Subsequent events of that inning had a carryover effect in the ninth. A bloop double by Chris Hoiles and a broken-bat, bloop single by pinch hitter David Segui put runners on first and third, with Mark McLemore hitting against Henke.

Tim Hulett, who ran for Hoiles, was the runner at third when McLemore lifted a fly to shallow center field. Devon White, who is not blessed with one of the best arms in the American League, was able to position himself and move in to make the catch before throwing home -- and Hulett got the stop sign from Cal Sr.

White's throw started on line, but sailed about 10 feet up the third-base line -- leaving open to speculation whether Hulett could have scored in an inning that ended with Mike Devereaux popping up with the bases loaded.

"Senior [Cal Sr.] is the only man who can make that decision," said Oates. "It's the easiest thing in the world to sit here now and say he should have sent him. That's easy to say after the throw goes off line."

For his part, Ripken Sr. was adamant that he had made the right decision -- and for the right reason. "You can say all you want -- I saw it all the way, and the man [Hulett] is going to be out if he goes," said the veteran coach.

"It's the tying run -- and the game's over. I gave us a chance to win the game by not sending him home. That's all there is to it."

Not quite. Hulett was in the game as a pinch runner because he was the only alternative left to Oates, who had pulled out all of his stops an inning earlier. Steve Scarsone had gone in as a pinch runner once Ripken Jr. had reached second base with the potential tying run. Scarsone was then replaced by Manny Alexander, who went in to play shortstop.

To give you an idea of the complexities of this move, you have to consider one very major fact. The last time Cal Jr. wasn't in the lineup with the game on the line was more than 10 years ago -- early in 1982, his rookie year.

"One of the things I asked myself was whether it was worth the gamble to use two guys [to replace Ripken] -- that's the question I'm asking myself right now," Oates said after the game. "I went for the experience -- it was very fresh in my mind what Scarsone did last week [when he helped win a game with his base running].

"You could play out a lot of possibilities about what happened in the eighth inning," said Oates. "I could've used Alexander to run, or let Scarsone stay in at shortstop [not his natural position].

"Those were decisions I had to make. I couldn't call time out and think about it."

Oates decided to take his chances in the eighth inning. He went for the experienced player to run and the inexperienced player to play his natural position -- and in the ninth inning Hulett was his only alternative as a pinch runner.

"You don't know what's going to happen in the ninth inning," said Oates. "What good would it do me to have somebody sitting on the bench [to pinch run] if nobody got on base?"

Oates was asked if having Scarsone, or Alexander, available as a pinch runner might have made a difference at the end. "Possibly," said Oates, while at the same time, no doubt asking "who knows?"

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