Huge win yanks O's back to life

June 16, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

This was not just another game. Not just one of 162. Don't you believe it.

The Orioles' 8-4 defeat of the Yankees last night was their biggest win of the season. Period. No doubt about it. Whatever the second biggest is, it isn't even close.

The Orioles were five outs away from a truly shattering loss. Five outs away from coming to the ballpark tonight facing the grim prospect of a four-game Yankees sweep at Camden Yards.

"It was a huge gut-check for us," Jack Voigt said. "Absolutely huge."

The night before, the Yankees had come from behind to win on Lee Smith's blown save in the ninth inning. For the Orioles, it was one of those defeats that sat there in the stomach, that didn't go away easily.

It almost happened again last night.

Orioles starter Jamie Moyer pitched brilliantly, retiring 17 of 18 at one point, but as soon as he left, the Yankees scored twice to take a 4-3 lead in the eighth.

Camden Yards got even quieter than usual. This one was going to hurt. This one was going to make five Yankees wins in the six games between the teams this season, two in a row coming from behind late.

"It was going to be tough," Tim Hulett said.

Would the Orioles begin to doubt that they could beat the Yankees?

"I don't think anyone wants to say it," Hulett said, "but you can get to the point where you feel something like that sometimes."

If the windows in your house rattled sometime after 10 o'clock last night, it was from the powerful sigh blowing out from Camden Yards as the Orioles scored five runs to turn a tough loss into a win that moved them back within two games of the first-place Yankees.

"It was nice to see, particularly because we've had some problems getting the job done in late-game situations this year," Hulett said. "We've kind of made some games exciting and left runners on. Tonight we came through."

At a critical moment.

If you lose three straight games to the team you're trying to catch, at home, in front of sellout crowds, you're just pretending to contend.

Four straight? See you next year.

"I don't want to say this was a season-saver," Hulett said, "but it sure beats losing."

A litany of Orioles came though in the eighth. Rafael Palmeiro started the rally with a one-out single. Cal Ripken worked reliever Bob Wickman for a walk. Leo Gomez delivered a run-scoring double.

"That was the biggest hit," manager Johnny Oates said. "Something to get us going."

After an intentional walk to Harold Baines loaded the bases, Chris Hoiles drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to center.

"That was the biggest hit," Hulett said, "the one that put us ahead."

Hulett, up next, banged a double into the right-field corner, scoring another run to make the lead 6-4.

"That was the biggest hit," Voigt said. "We needed the cushion."

Voigt completed the rally with a ground single into left field, scoring two more runs.

Not the biggest hit.

"But it was good to put them away," Moyer said. "We haven't been scoring at home, for some reason. We really needed something like this."

Indeed. It was the first time this season that the Orioles had come from behind to win a game in their last at-bat. Being kind, the Orioles are somewhat less than clutch this year. They have been outscored 34-18 in the ninth inning.

"We needed this game," Gomez said. "We needed to win like this."

There was a lot of talk afterward about needing to come back and win again tonight to split the series, but let's face it: the only way that this series was going to really matter was if one team swept. Last night's win took the pressure off tonight's game.

As it is, the Orioles will send Mike Mussina to the mound against Jimmy Key tonight to try to pull back within a game of first place. Yes, it's where they were when the series began, but considering where they almost were before the eighth inning last night, that sounds pretty good.

Based on these three games, the two teams are pretty evenly matched. Good pitching. Good defense. But a slim difference can become huge if one team keeps finding a way to win night after night.

"You lose a couple of tough games and you can get down," Gomez said. "Everyone's a lot happier in here now. A whole lot happier."

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