In scoreboard flash, O's are only 1 back Hoiles' 3 RBI power 6-3 win

September 09, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

Call it coincidence or luck or even sunspots, but the Orioles got two large pieces of good fortune at just the right moments in last night's 6-3 win over the Seattle Mariners before 45,944 at Camden Yards.

At about the time Jim Poole was staring down the barrel of a situation with runners at first and second with one out, the scoreboard flashed that Texas had gone ahead of New York, 3-0.

On the next pitch, Poole got pinch hitter Bill Haselman to ground into an inning-ending double play. Coincidence? Perhaps.

In the bottom of that eighth inning, with the score tied at 3, pinch hitter Tim Hulett dug in against reliever Jeff Nelson, and the scoreboard flashed that Oakland had taken a 2-1 lead over Toronto in the ninth at SkyDome.

The crowd erupted. Hulett walked, loading the bases and setting the stage for the next batter, Chris Hoiles, to drive in the game-winning runs with a single to left.

Was it an omen or dumb luck?

Neither, according to manager Johnny Oates.

"Those things happened 30 minutes before they posted it up there. [Charles] Steinberg [who supervises the scoreboard operation] is no dummy," said Oates. "You don't think he doesn't just do that to get the crowd going. That's to our advantage."

In the absence of an Oliver Stone-esque conspiracy, the truth of the matter is that the Orioles, who have won nine of their last 10, are in the thick of the American League East race.

With the Blue Jays' 2-1 loss to Oakland and the Yankees' 4-1 loss to Texas, the Orioles are still in third, but now just one game out of first and a half-game out of second.

It's the closest the Orioles have been to first place since Aug. 9, the day their eight-game losing streak began in Detroit. Their ascension has come on the strength of things as predictable as good pitching and timely hitting.

And Poole, Hoiles and Orioles starter Fernando Valenzuela were the prime examples of both.

Poole, who along with Alan Mills has become the hub of the bullpen in Gregg Olson's absence, was nothing short of brilliant last night, retiring five Mariners hitters over the final 1 2/3 innings on just seven pitches.

L The double play was the obvious centerpiece of Poole's work.

"We had that same matchup [Tuesday] night and got a ground ball to Pags [Mike Pagliarulo]," said Oates. "Tonight, it went to Junior [Cal Ripken]. It takes a little luck and a little skill."

Poole said the seeds of last night's comeback win, where the Orioles trailed 2-0 in the first, were sown the night before when their ninth-inning comeback from a three-run deficit fell just short.

"Last night got us primed. We were enthusiastic on the bench [Tuesday] and it carried over," said Poole. "A win like this will carry us for a while."

Valenzuela, who was on the verge of irrelevance just two months after he was American League Pitcher of the Month, turned in his longest stint in two weeks, and the second longest since the end of July.

The veteran left-hander still is winless in his last nine outings, but at least has hope he has turned a corner with last night's 6 1/3 -inning, three-run, four-strikeout effort.

"I'm doing a lot better now. I don't think I have to change anything because I'm doing the same thing," said Valenzuela. "I feel close because the numbers are the same."

And apart from Jay Buhner's first-inning two-run homer, the numbers were good for Valenzuela, who worked into the seventh inning for only the second time since July 28. The other long stint was also against Seattle, in the Kingdome on Aug. 17, as he gave up three runs before watching the Orioles drop a 5-3 decision to the Mariners.

"That's the way it is unless you get a complete game," said Oates. "Fernando struggled early and didn't get the ball where he wanted. He gave up a two-run homer to a guy the whole ballpark knew was swinging [for one]. But the last four innings he pitched very well."

But last night, unlike the Kingdome meeting, the Orioles had Hoiles. Since returning to the club from the disabled list on Aug. 24, Hoiles is batting .389 with nine homers and 12 RBI in 14 games.

Last night, his 2-for-3 effort was right on time.

"It's amazing," said Hoiles. "Some days you get them and some days they get you. Today, we got them. We have the bases loaded and one out and the potential game-winning run at third. The ballclub's excited, the fans are excited. Everybody's excited."

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