'Sac' Leonard tucks in another Orioles win, 2-1 8th-inning sac fly is 3rd in 10 trips

May 11, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

Outfielder Mark Leonard still is waiting for his first hit as a member of the Orioles, but that hasn't kept him from driving in some big runs in his first week with the big-league club.

Leonard delivered a bases-loaded sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth inning last night to carry the Orioles to a hard-fought, 2-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards.

That might not seem like a tremendous accomplishment, but it was Leonard's third sacrifice fly in 10 plate appearances. He drove in the first Orioles run in Sunday's game at Toronto with a fly out to center and brought home a big run in a pinch-hit situation last week in his first Orioles plate appearance.

To further put it into perspective, consider that the Orioles did not get their first sacrifice fly this year until the 14th game of the season. Leonard entered the game already leading the club in that department.

"I'll take that," Leonard said. "A sacrifice fly to win a game like that? I'll take that over a 3-for-4 any day. That was my job -- to get the ball over the infield and stay out of the double play."

It was just the kind of thing the Orioles were not doing in April, when they were getting off to one of the worst starts in club history. Now, they are getting big performances from unlikely people and have bounced back from a 5-13 start to win eight of the past 12 games.

"That's what we've been talking about -- situational hitting," manager Johnny Oates said. "There's a time that calls for that. He's done his job three times. I'd much rather see that than see a guy try to hit the ball out of the park in that situation."

Leonard lofted a fly ball to medium center field to bring home Brady Anderson and make a winner of reliever Todd Frohwirth (2-2). Rookie left-hander Brad Pennington got the final two outs to record his first major-league save as the Orioles won their third straight and continued to creep toward .500 (13-17).

"We're just trying to get some respectability," Oates said. "We're trying to play to the level we felt we would when we came out of spring training. It's a lot more fun to come to the ballpark when you're winning."

Starting pitcher Mike Mussina came to the ballpark seeking to tie a club record with his third straight shutout, but his string of consecutive scoreless innings ended at 23 when Billy Hatcher lined a one-out single to center in the sixth inning to score John Valentin from third base.

It wasn't a particularly stellar performance for Mussina, who has been making a habit of overpowering the opposition, but he was resourceful enough to allow 14 base runners and give up only one run in 6 1/3 innings.

"He didn't have anything tonight," Oates said. "He was a lucky pitcher tonight. Mike Mussina has been great for 50 starts, but I don't think he made two dozen quality pitches tonight. It seemed like there were two or three guys on base all night."

Red Sox starter John Dopson was much sharper, giving up six hits in seven innings, but he lost his chance at the victory when Leo Gomez launched a 425-foot home run to bring the Orioles from a run down in the bottom of the seventh.

The ball nearly cleared the first section of bleachers in left-center for Gomez's fourth homer of the year, but it was only good enough to get the Orioles even and Mussina out of the decision. He did not pitch particularly well, but he still managed to lower his ERA to 2.43.

Mussina had made it look so easy in his previous two starts. He held the Minnesota Twins to five singles in an 11-0 victory on April 29 at Oriole Park, then shut out the Twins on two hits last week at the Metrodome. This time, he needed a couple of big defensive plays early to keep the possibility of a third straight shutout alive into the late innings.

The Red Sox came within a few feet of making it a non-issue in the second, when Valentin delivered a hit to right with runners at first and second, but Mark McLemore scooped up the ball and threw a strike to cut down Scott Cooper at the plate.

There were two on and two out in the fourth when Boston catcher Tony Pena launched a long line drive up the alley in left-center, but rookie Damon Buford went a long way to make the catch.

It was going to be that kind of evening. Mussina had given up as many hits (seven) by the time there was one out in the fifth as he had in his two previous starts combined. He worked with runners on base in each of the seven innings he started, and found his way out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fifth before finally giving up the run in the sixth.

"I was pretty lucky, I'd say," Mussina said. "I made a lot of bad pitches to put myself in difficult spots and had to pitch real well to get out of them. I was doing everything I could to keep us in the game. Fortunately, we got a few breaks and Leo got us back in it . . . and Mark Leonard is the best .000 hitter I've seen."

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