Tackett cleans McDonald's mess

June 28, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

CLEVELAND -- The Orioles' team charter was making its way from Toronto to Cleveland when word spread that Jeff Tackett would be playing in the opener of a four-game series at Jacobs Field, new home of the Cleveland Indians.

One of the players sent a flight attendant to the front of the plane to ask the manager a question.

"Are there any pigs on the radar?" she asked Johnny Oates.

"Excuse me?" Oates said.

"Are there any pigs on the radar?" she repeated.

And the players all had a good laugh.

"They said Tackett only plays when pigs fly," Oates said.

Pigs flew last night.

And so did a baseball. Over the left-field fence. Off the bat of Tackett, no less.

Tackett hit the tie-breaking home run in the eighth inning of the Orioles' 7-6 victory over the Indians last night before 41,663 at Jacobs Field, where the Orioles became the last American League team to visit.

A big part of any catcher's job includes being there for his pitcher when he needs him. Tackett was there for McDonald last night, though not in the traditional sense.

Tackett did his starting pitcher a favor long after McDonald was blasted out of the game by the Indians.

Tackett's first home run since 1992 came off Cleveland starting and losing pitcher Charles Nagy (6-4). It broke a 6-6 tie and turned reliever Tom Bolton (1-1) into the winning pitcher after slumping McDonald, spotted a five-run lead, was knocked out of the game in the fifth inning, by which time the lead had dwindled to one run.

Tackett did more than just hit. He was on the receiving end of a play at the plate, retrieving center fielder Brady Anderson's strong throw on

an inning-ending double play in the fourth. Tackett also reached base three times, drawing a walk and getting hit by a Nagy pitch.

"I'm on Cloud 9 right now," Tackett said. "I'm ecstatic. I hit the home run, walked, was hit by a pitch and me and Brady hooked up to get [Carlos] Baerga at the plate.

"I'm excited, but then you have to come back to reality. I realize I won't be in there again for the rest of the series. I was just in there to give Chris a day off."

Starter Chris Hoiles has caught 88 percent of the Orioles' innings this season, a workload that at times leaves Hoiles wondering how much he will have left for the stretch drive. Tackett wonders the same thing.

"I think it would help both of us out if I played a little more often," Tackett said. "Like once every five or seven days just to give him a day off."

Tackett eased the burden for McDonald, who was given a five-run lead by the Orioles' offense and the Indians' defense, only to turn a one-run lead over to Bolton in the four-run fifth inning.

McDonald allowed eight hits, two walks and five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. One start does not a slump make. In the past two starts, McDonald has given up 15 hits and 13 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings.

L If two starts does not a slump make, then 10 certainly does.

McDonald has a 7.12 ERA in his past 10 starts and is averaging 5 1/3 innings per start over that time.

Bolton walked four and allowed four hits in 2 2/3 innings to earn the the win and Lee Smith picked up his 26th save in 29 chances -- striking out the side. Alan Mills contributed two of the biggest outs of the night, retiring Albert Belle on a popup and striking out Eddie Murray with men on first and second for the final two outs of the eighth inning.

Mills made his 10th consecutive scoreless appearance, covering innings.

Murray, who had run-scoring singles in his second and third trips to the plate, looked at strike three in his fifth. It was the 10,000th at-bat of his career and came on the same night he moved into a tie for 15th on the all-time RBIs list (1,715) with Cap Anson.

McDonald, formerly a candidate for the AL All-Star team, had pitched three innings of no-hit ball before his night began to unravel.

He took a 6-1 lead into the fifth and took a bloated earned run average out of it, bloated all the way to 4.92. He faced eight batters and allowed six hits in the inning.

Murray, the final batter McDonald faced, did the same thing he did in his first at-bat. He produced in the clutch and drove in a run with a single. Gee, there's a surprise. Murray has driven in 53 runs this year.

One of the best clutch hitters of his time, Murray is batting .366 with runners in scoring position for the Indians, his third team since he left the Orioles after the 1988 season.

The Indians didn't need Murray's help to tie the game with a run in the sixth. Kenny Lofton reached on a two-out walk and scored easily on Omar Vizquel's double to left-center.

The Orioles were anything but macho in building the five-run lead.

They scored four runs in the fifth despite hitting only one ball out of the infield against Nagy, that being Rafael Palmeiro's run-scoring single.

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