Fernando opens eyes with big win

JOHN EISENBERG

September 15, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

BOSTON -- This was the night when neither starting pitcher could afford to blink. The night when both managers dreaded having to call their bullpens for help. Because there wasn't much help out there.

The Red Sox had pretty much exhausted their useful arms in the bullpen while rallying to beat the Orioles the night before. And the Orioles' bullpen, well, let's just say that its last few outings had been somewhat less than suitable for family viewing. A night off was badly needed.

It made for a particularly easy game to handicap. The team in trouble was the team that had to dip first into its pitching reserve. And with the Sox starting Danny Darwin and the Orioles starting Fernando Valenzuela, the Orioles certainly figured to be the team in trouble.

What other conclusion was there? Darwin has been the Sox's best starter this year, a 14-game winner who had twice shut down the Orioles. And Valenzuela, well, you've been watching, right? He hadn't won in 48 days. There had been talk of removing him from the rotation.

It was, thus, a stare-off in the guise of a baseball game on a warm September night under the bright lights of Fenway Park. Darwin and Valenzuela, two starters handed identical assignments:

Don't blink, or else.

A stare-off that the Orioles, sweating out the hot division race, could barely watch.

Even after Harold Baines gave the Orioles an early lead with a monster homer to center, the longest homer of the year at Fenway, who among them could feel easy? The skinny on Valenzuela was that he went bad early; he hadn't reached the fifth inning in five of his previous seven starts.

Sure enough, the Sox got right after him, loading the bases with one out in the second. Could this be the blink, this early? No. Valenzuela escaped with minimal damage, one run, getting Tony Pena to fly to center and Scott Fletcher to bounce to short.

Things were no easier in the third, though. The Sox put runners on first and second with one out. Valenzuela wiped his forearm across his forehead, sighed the heavy sigh of a pitcher in constant Dutch. He wound up and threw screwballs. Rob Deer popped up. Billy Hatcher popped up.

Scoreless inning. Still no blink.

Darwin was putting the pressure on, though, more and more pressure with each 1-2-3 inning. The Orioles went down in order in the second, third, fourth, fifth innings. No margin for error. Too tough for Fernando?

Maybe so. Or so it seemed in the fifth, when Mo Vaughn finally got to Valenzuela, punching a curveball around the right-field foul pole for a cheap homer. Suddenly, the crowd was loud and the Sox were up a run, having rallied for the second straight night. Darwin went back out and cruised through the sixth, another 1-2-3 inning. When he got Baines on a fly ball to start the seventh, Darwin had retired 16 straight.

But then Cal Ripken banged a single to center. And then Chris Hoiles stepped up and blasted Darwin's curveball so hard that Sox left fielder Mike Greenwell didn't flinch as the ball flew into the night, over the Green Monster, over the screen, and landed goodness knows where.

Suddenly, the Orioles were ahead again. And suddenly, after some 25 innings of frustration, they were all over Darwin. Mike Pagliarulo followed Hoiles with a single. Lonnie Smith hit a high, deep ball to center that Hatcher misplayed into a double. Sox manager Butch Hobson visited the mound but didn't take out Darwin.

But then David Segui drove in a run with a sacrifice fly, Brady Anderson walked and Mark McLemore singled to right to score the fourth run of the inning. Hobson came trudging back out to the mound. Here it was: The Blink. And it was Darwin's, not Fernando's. Go figure.

Anyway, suddenly Valenzuela had all sorts of margin for error, and, sure enough, the Orioles jumped all over the Sox bullpen, scoring five more runs in the eighth for an eight-run lead. &L Valenzuela cruised through the eighth and ninth, finishing with a inning and turning sharply to shake hands with Hoiles and the rest of the team.

Want to hear the miracle numbers of the Orioles' run for the pennant? Valenzuela hadn't recorded a win in his nine prior starts, but last night's result boosted the Orioles' record to 5-5 in those games. Somehow, they've gotten by with Valenzuela.

They can ask for no more than that, of course. They're basically two teams at this point. The team that wins with Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald and Jamie Moyer, and the team that prays with Arthur Rhodes and Valenzuela. Having split two pray games in Fenway the past two nights, they're not going to complain. Or blink.

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