Eichhorn, Bolton get bullpen out of trouble

INSIDE PITCH

May 09, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

From a technical standpoint, the last out of any game is always the most important, but the Orioles stretched that theory twice yesterday.

By the time their eight-run lead had dwindled to a precarious pair in the seventh inning, the Orioles had used four pitchers in a span of only four hitters. After a struggling Ben McDonald departed, Alan Mills, Jim Poole and Mark Eichhorn faced, in order, Albert Belle, Eddie Murray and Candy Maldonado -- with Murray's sacrifice fly resulting in the only out from the bunch.

It was Maldonado's bloop single that precipitated the most crucial matchup of the game -- Eichhorn against Jim Thome, a good left-handed power hitter, not the most ideal pairing for the Orioles. When the sidearm right-hander got a swinging third strike ("a good forkball") for the third out of the inning, a semblance of order was restored for the Orioles.

"Except for the last one, that was the biggest out of the game as far as I'm concerned," said manager Johnny Oates. A hit in that spot would've created a serious problem for Oates, who rapidly went through his bullpen in search of someone who could get him to closer Lee Smith.

"In that situation, you go for certain matchups," said Oates. "Mills [a right-hander] against Belle [a right-hander]; Poole [a left-hander] to get Murray [a switch-hitter] on the right side; Eichhorn [a right-hander] against Maldonado [a right-hander]."

Oates got the best possible matchups, but outs were hard to come by -- until a matchup he would've preferred to avoid (Eichhorn vs. Thome) finally ended the three-run inning. But when Tony Pena lined a one-out single off Eichhorn in the eighth, Oates was forced to play the matchup game once more.

This time it pitted left-hander Tom Bolton against speedy left-handed hitter Kenny Lofton. When the count went to 3-and-1, the Orioles were facing another potentially ugly situation.

However, Bolton went Eichhorn one better by getting Lofton to hit into a rare double play. "Against him, you're just thinking about getting an out, not a double play," said Bolton. "But when I saw Timmy [second baseman Tim Hulett] get rid of the ball and I saw Cal [shortstop Cal Ripken] coming across the bag, I knew we had a chance."

Those two outs delayed the appearance of a sixth pitcher in the space of nine batters until after pinch hitter Manny Ramirez was announced to start the ninth inning. Smith made his entrance, and proceeded to prove he didn't go to school just to enjoy recess and eat his lunch.

A single by Carlos Baerga allowed Murray to come to the plate representing the winning run with two outs and Mark Lewis on deck. Four pitches later, Lewis came to the plate representing the go-ahead run after a semi-intentional walk to Murray.

"I didn't know anything about Lewis," said Smith, "but he was going to have to beat me." Lewis didn't, striking out to end the game.

But, had it not been for the diving forkball Eichhorn threw past Thome in the seventh inning, Smith may not have had the opportunity to record his 13th save.

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