Rare Strange homer sends Olson, Orioles to 3-1 loss in 11th

April 08, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The Texas Rangers figure to knock a few teams silly this season. They hit four home runs against the Orioles in the season opener Monday and have the kind of lineup that can put a serious hurt on anyone at any time.

But Doug Strange?

That's who left the Orioles 0-for-Oriole Park last night. Strange pinch hit for Bill Ripken in the 11th inning and hit a two-run home run off stopper Gregg Olson to carry the Rangers to a 3-1 victory and a sweep of the two-game series.

Jose Canseco went hitless in four at-bats. American League home run champion Juan Gonzalez struck out three times. But Strange, a minor-league journeyman who had a grand total of two home runs in 299 previous major-league at-bats, launched a 1-0 sinking fastball onto the flag court in his Rangers debut to give reliever Bob Patterson a victory in his first appearance for the club.

It was the sixth home run by the Rangers in the series and it definitely was not the way the Orioles wanted to reward their record 61st straight sellout crowd (46,447).

"In that situation, he was looking to hit something straight and in play," Olson said. "I gave him something that he could get up and in play. You know what you want to do in a situation like that. That pitch should be perfect for that situation. It was just in a bad location."

Olson had just entered the game to face Strange after the Rangers moved the go-ahead run into scoring position with one out. Strange is a switch-hitter, but manager Johnny Oates went to his stopper even though setup man Todd Frohwirth had pitched well for 2 2/3 innings.

"He's a better left-handed hitter than right-handed," Oates explained, "but left-handers are hitting about .270 [lifetime] against Frohwirth and .180 against Olson. They had three left-handers coming up in a row. I'll take the 100 points."

Strange has spent eight seasons in professional baseball, but he had appeared in just 119 major-league games with the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. He was signed by the Rangers as a minor-league free agent in January and was outrighted to the Triple-A Oklahoma City 89ers, but started the season in the majors and helped the Rangers get off to a promising start.

"I knew I hit it pretty good," Strange said. "I was just hoping it would continue to keep going. I was just looking for a ball to drive hard up the middle. I know that Gregg Olson is an outstanding pitcher, so I'm just trying to drive in the run any way possible."

How unlikely was it? Olson had faced 555 left-handed batters in his career to that point and he had given up just two home runs -- one to Cleveland Indians second baseman Carlos Baerga in 1990 and the other to New York Yankees outfielder Mel Hall in 1991.

"He hit two just like that in spring training," said Rangers manager Kevin Kennedy. "Really, we just wanted a base hit, but we'll take that. He got the good part of the bat on the ball, obviously, and got it out."

It shouldn't have come to that, not after Orioles starter Mike Mussina turned in a terrific eight-inning performance in his 1993 debut. He did everything but break out his press clippings from 1992, working eight innings and giving up just four hits, but he was fortunate to get away with his seven-game winning streak intact.

The new-look Orioles offense didn't look very new at all, not after an 0-for-12 performance with runners in scoring position. The most disappointing was a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the ninth that turned sour when neither Brady Anderson nor Mike Devereaux could get the winning run home.

The only run scored by the Orioles crossed the plate on a hard-hit, double-play ball by Glenn Davis, who was up -- and down -- in so many RBI situations that he became the first Orioles player to be booed in 1993.

"The one time we did hit the ball hard, we gave them the chance to turn it into a double play," Oates said. "That's the story of the whole ballgame -- the lack of clutch hitting."

Give some credit to Rangers left-hander Charlie Leibrandt, who beguiled the Orioles for seven innings. He gave up seven hits, but got every big out he needed to keep the Orioles off the scoreboard. Reliever Matt Whiteside came on in the eighth to give up the tying run, but three Rangers relievers combined to shut out the Orioles the rest of the way.

The Rangers had pounded Rick Sutcliffe in the season opener Monday, but they looked far less imposing with Mussina on the mound. He struck out three of the first four batters and made only one questionable pitch.

Third baseman Dean Palmer reached out and pulled a line drive into the left-field bleachers in the second inning for his third home run of the season. Make that his third home run in five 1993 at-bats.

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