Orioles slip out of Chicago with win, Thomas on deck

May 30, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Frank Thomas, hovering in the on-deck circle like the baseball giant that he is, represented the tying run if the man at the plate reached base yesterday.

Thomas didn't have to say "save my ups" to Mike LaValliere. What was left of the 37,454 spectators at sunny Comiskey Park were thinking it.

LaValliere reaches base and Lee Smith, the man on a pace to save 70 games, has to face Thomas, the man on a pace to hit 70 home runs.

It didn't happen. Maybe in October.

LaValliere flied to center, Smith earned his 20th save, and the Orioles won the game, 8-4, over the Chicago White Sox in much tougher fashion than the score indicates.

Left-hander Sid Fernandez (3-2, 4.19) pitched into the eighth and earned the win, surviving two homerun pitches, one -- of course -- to Thomas.

The Orioles, hitless against Cy Young winner and losing pitcher Jack McDowell (2-7, 6.24) through three innings, finished the day with 14 hits, compared to six by the White Sox. Harold Baines was the only one in the Orioles lineup who did not produce a hit.

Still, it came down to the final out and it came down to another save situation for Smith, who has appeared in 21 games for the Orioles, saving 20 and winning the other.

Likewise, the nine-game trip came down to the final day for the Orioles as far as calling it a winning or losing trip.

The Orioles went 5-4 on a three-city journey that started with two losses and had a four-game winning streak in the middle. They lost two out of three to the New York Yankees and White Sox, the two most feared teams in the American League, and in the middle they swept the Milwaukee Brewers, the dregs of the AL Central.

The first two losses to the White Sox came to starting pitchers who have gone 8-1 in their past nine decisions. Yesterday's Orioles victory ended the White Sox's winning streak at seven games.

Much like the Orioles' season itself, the trip triggered neither backflips nor fire alarms. They stand in third place in the American League East, five games behind the first-place Yankees. The Orioles are owners of a 27-19 record that is the fourth best in the league.

"I can't put my finger on my feelings," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said. "I really can't. It's not a great record, but it's a decent record, yet I feel like we're being beaten down, like we're losers because we haven't won 35 games by now. That's the feeling I'm getting."

That is Oates' perception of outsiders' views of the Orioles. His own perception?

"That we have not played as well as we're capable of playing offensively," he said. "That we can get better and that I see signs we are getting better. I see Devo [Mike Devereaux] coming around. I see [Chris] Hoiles coming up with a couple of big hits today. Brady [Anderson] has an 11-game hitting streak and Raffy [Rafael] Palmeiro is starting to have some good swings again.

"Our offense is getting better. We'll be OK."

Streaking Leo Gomez drove in the final three runs with a bases-loaded double in the ninth and Tim Hulett knocked in two with an eighth-inning triple off of reliever Kirk McCaskill that made it 5-1. Devereaux and Palmeiro (3-for-3) drove in runs in the two-run fifth off of McDowell and Hoiles (2-for-5) singled in a run in the sixth.

The biggest hit of the day?

"They are all big when you end a game with Frank Thomas standing in the on-deck circle," Oates said.

During the three-game series, Thomas went 5-for-9 with three home runs and reached base in nine of 13 plate appearances.

In the fourth, he broke a scoreless tie with a home run to center field off of Fernandez on a 1-2 pitch. Thomas cranked the previous pitch just foul, delaying his 20th home run and sixth in five games.

"He scared us out of his kitchen and right into his wheelhouse," Oates said.

Thomas has homered in five consecutive games and 12 times in the month of May.

The next time Thomas came to the plate, the Orioles led 3-1 but that didn't keep Fernandez from walking him on four pitches.

"You just try to keep the ball away from him and if you get him out, fine, and if you don't get him out, that's fine too," Fernandez said. "You can't always pitch around him, because the guy behind him isn't too shabby either."

The guy behind Thomas, Julio Franco, has 52 RBIs, but he went hitless yesterday.

Reliever Alan Mills came into the game after Fernandez started the eighth by allowing a single to Ozzie Guillen and a two-run home run to Tim Raines to make the score 5-3.

Mills walked the first two batters he faced, Norberto Martin and Thomas, who fouled off a trio of full-count pitches.

Franco represented the go-ahead run and grounded into a double play, Hulett starting it by corraling a hard, bad-hopper. Mills retired Darrin Jackson on a grounder to second for the final out of the eighth.

Mills didn't survive the ninth, issuing a one-out walk to Warren Newson, who advanced on Joey Cora's pinch single to left. Left-hander Jim Poole then walked Guillen, who had walked once in 145 plate appearances going into the at-bat.

Time for Smith to make that long trot/walk in from the bullpen. Raines pushed across the White Sox's fourth run with a sacrifice fly to left and pinch hitter LaValliere flied to center, denying Thomas the chance to face baseball's all-time saves leader.

"Of course I would have liked to have gotten a shot the way I'm swinging the bat," Thomas said. "But he made the pitches he needed to make to get out of the inning."

Maybe in October.

ORIOLES TONIGHT

Opponent: Detroit Tigers

Site: Oriole Park

Time: 7:35 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Tigers' John Doherty (6-3, 5.17) vs. Orioles' Jamie Moyer (2-3, 5.97)

Tickets: 300 scattered singles remain, not including 183 bleacher and 275 standing-room tickets that go on sale when the gates open.

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