Anderson, Orioles go out in style Record-setting HRs set the tone for fan-tastic finale

September 29, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

Six games left, and no place to go -- except Detroit and Cleveland.

The Orioles have known about the last two stops on their schedule for a long time. But until recently, besides visiting both sides of Lake Erie, there was hope of going to a place in the standings higher than third during the final week of the season.

It isn't going to happen, but at least the Orioles derived a measure of consolation last night when they closed their inaugural season at Camden Yards. Brady Anderson set the tone for the evening, with a first-inning home run, and capped the 7-3 win the same way in the eighth inning.

In between, Leo Gomez decided the game with a bases-loaded double during a frenzied seventh-inning rally that featured a roaring, poster-waving, final-night audience of 45,663. Most of them stayed for the finish, when those on the field and the ones in the stands traded salutes in acknowledgment of a remarkable year on both sides.

The Orioles will finish with many more wins (last night was their 85th) than anticipated -- and the final attendance tally of 3,567,819 was the fifth highest in baseball history.

"It was quite a sight from down on the field," manager Johnny Oates said of the fan demonstration. "It was like a New Year's Eve crowd -- it was their last chance to let it out, and they let it out at the right time. Tonight [last night], the noise might have been a factor."

For Anderson, the fan reaction had a personal meaning. His home run in the first inning was his 20th -- making him the first American Leaguer to hit that many, steal 50 bases and drive in 75 runs in a season. He was accorded a standing ovation and got the treatment again when he took his position in left field.

When he reached the right-center field bleachers a second time in the eighth inning, Anderson earned a curtain call.

"It's the first time I've ever hit two home runs in a game -- anywhere," he said. "And it's the first time I've ever gotten a curtain call.

"I'm going to miss the fans," admitted Anderson, who is normally very stoic on the field. Last night, during a pitching change in the ninth inning, he went to the base of the left-field wall for some interaction with the spectators.

"The people with season tickets, I see over and over," he said. "You get to feel like they're your friends. Ever since I've been over here, I've been amazed by the support I've gotten."

He said that the 20th home run had started to weigh on his mind. "Maybe because it was the last game here, I was a little nervous," he said, "and more excited than I usually am. I was starting to get a little fidgety about it [hitting his 20th]."

Anderson said that being the first American Leaguer to do the 20-50-75 number was meaningful. "Any time you're the first to do anything, it's a great accomplishment," he said. "I was well aware of it, they've been talking about it for a while [his last home run came Sept. 14 against Kansas City's Rick Reed].

"It might have affected the way I approached it -- I was out there battling [to reach 20]. Before the game I thought, 'If I'm going to do it, now's the time.' "

It took 11 pitches from Boston right-hander Mike Gardiner before Anderson connected in the first inning -- after hitting the previous pitch deep, and foul, down the right-field line.

"That was a tough at-bat," he said. "Probably one of the best I've had all year.

"Usually, after you hit it foul, that's the end of it. I was just trying to hit the ball up the middle both times -- maybe that will teach me a lesson."

If the reaction from the fans was special for Anderson, the one in the dugout was even better. "The reception I got from my teammates was tremendous," he said.

"It was probably the greatest feeling I've had in baseball. The only thing I can compare it to is the reception they gave me when they found out I made the All-Star team.

"That's one of the great things about playing a team sport. I always thought I'd enjoy an individual sport more because it's just you [against everybody else] -- but on days like this it's great to have teammates to share it with you."

If there was a person in the Orioles' clubhouse who enjoyed the milestone as much as the left fielder, it should have been Oates, who made the decision in spring training to play Anderson every day.

"I'm very happy for him, I'm tickled to death," Oates said, "but it's nothing personal for me. He's the one who did it. I just feel very good for him."

All of the commotion created by Anderson almost overshadowed Gomez, who delivered the biggest hit of the game -- off Boston reliever Scott Taylor on a 3-and-2 pitch with two outs in the seventh inning.

"I knew he was going to throw me a fastball," said the third baseman. "When it's 3-and-2 with the bases loaded, that's one of the few times you can look for a pitch and know he [the pitcher] is going to throw it.

"Before that [when he was behind 1-and-2 in the count], I was just trying to make contact. I didn't want to strike out in that situation -- just make sure I put the ball in play and hope either I get a hit or they make an error."

Gomez got the hit, Anderson got the hurrahs, and the Orioles, at least, got a nice send-off for the last two stops on their 1992 schedule.

But, all things considered, Detroit and Cleveland would have sounded a whole lot better if the circumstances were as imagined as recently as three weeks ago.

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