The Orioles and Seattle Mariners began the evening at Camden Yards last night playing baseball, but ended it in an old-fashioned chess contest, trying to check each other's hitting move with an appropriate pitching counter.
When the game was over, the Orioles and catcher Chris Hoiles had checkmated the Mariners, 6-3, to close the narrowing gap in the American League East.
The Orioles' win and Toronto's loss to Oakland put the Orioles one game out of first, depending on the outcome of New York's game with Texas.
Hoiles doubled down the left-field line with one out and the
bases loaded off Seattle reliever Jeff Nelson, a Catonsville native, to drive in two of three eight-inning runs. Hoiles had homered in the sixth to tie the score at 3, to close what had been a two-run deficit.
Seattle manager Lou Pinella had played the percentages in the eighth, gambling that his relievers could hold off the Orioles long enough for his batters to scratch out a win.
When left-handed reliever Kevin King walked Mike Devereaux to lead off the eighth, then watched as Harold Baines improbably laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, Pinella got the managerial wheels turning.
King then walked Cal Ripken intentionally and Orioles manager Johnny Oates tapped Tim Hulett to pinch-hit for Mike Pagliarulo.
Pinella rolled the dice on Nelson, a right-hander, but he walked Hulett, loading the bases, setting the stage for Hoiles, who coolly doubled past a diving Mike Blowers, driving in Devereaux and Ripken and moving Hulett to third.
Hulett scored an insurance run when reliever Erik Platenberg threw a wild pitch.
Reliever Jim Poole, who shut the Mariners out in the eighth in a situation where they had runners at first and second with one out, got the win, closing out Seattle in the final 1 2/3 innings on just seven pitches.
The game's end ruined an interesting story line with Orioles starter Fernando Valenzuela, who rose to prominence in the '80s in Los Angeles, matched against Seattle's Roger Salkeld, a rookie who grew up watching Valenzuela pitch for the Dodgers.
Valenzuela, who is winless in his nine starts, walked a tightrope the entire evening, and was in jeopardy of picking up his 10th loss of the season until Hoiles slammed a 2-0 pitch into the left-center-field stands in the sixth to tie the game at 3.
Still, the left-hander worked 6 1/3 innings and gave up only six hits and struck out four, turning in his longest performance in the last two weeks, and the second-longest stint since July, when he was named American League Pitcher of the Month.
Salkeld, who left with two out in the fifth, brought an inspiring story to the mound.
The 22-year-old Burbank, Calif., native was the third player chosen in the 1989 amateur draft and was 30-7 with 404 strikeouts in 264 innings in his high school career.
But he missed all of last season with soreness in his right shoulder, which required two operations to correct. Salkeld missed the first half of this season and was not expected to pitch at all this year, but was activated June 22, and assigned to Double-A Jacksonville, where he was 4-3 with a 3.27 ERA.
Staked to a 2-0 first-inning lead on Jay Buhner's 25th homer, Salkeld was dazzling in the Orioles' first, striking out Brady Anderson and Mark McLemore and getting Mike Devereaux to ground weakly to third.
Salkeld caught a big break in the second, when with two out and Harold Baines and Mike Pagliarulo aboard, David Segui doubled to left-center. Baines scored easily, and Pagliarulo, who had been on first but running on the play, also crossed the plate, but was ordered back to third on Segui's hit, which hopped the fence.
The next batter, Harold Reynolds, poked a shot down the third-base line that Mike Blowers, playing in on the grass, dove at and stopped, throwing Reynolds out.
The Orioles got another run in the third, when Anderson tripled into the right-field corner and scored on Devereaux's single to left.
Valenzuela, however, was as inconsistent in the early going as he had been over most of his previous nine starts. He gave up leadoff hits in the first and fourth innings, set down the next two batters, then surrendered run-scoring hits.
The first-inning blast to Buhner, his third home run of the year off Orioles pitching, came on a 3-0 count and brought home center fielder Brian Turang, who singled to lead off the game.
In the fourth, ninth-place hitter Omar Vizquel, who had just five hits in 35 previous at-bats against the Orioles, singled to left, driving in left fielder Greg Litton, who doubled to left to open the inning.