Cold night, but hot play warms heart

April 11, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

First, we stole its football team.

Now, we're after its baseball team.

Relax, Cleveland -- it's not that kind of after.

It's after, as in chasing.

After, as in gaining.

After, as in challenging for American League supremacy.

The Orioles stared down the Indians last night, twice rallying to tie, then pulling out a 3-2 victory in the 10th inning on a single by Rafael Palmeiro.

This night will be remembered for the bitter-cold temperatures, for the October-like tension, for Jeffrey Hammonds' offensive and defensive heroics in the 10th.

It even may be remembered as a night the Orioles turned the corner in a season when the past no longer is relevant, and the present is so full of promise.

The Orioles are 6-1, their best start since 1971. They're winning games every which way. And they lead the AL East by two games, their largest margin since Aug. 23, 1989.

Sure, it's early, but the psychological importance of such victories cannot be overstated. Seven of the Orioles' 10 losses to the Indians last season were by one or two runs.

The Indians, meanwhile, had won 14 straight regular-season games in extra innings, dating from July 20, 1994.

When you're trying to establish a winning culture, when you're trying to reach the postseason for the first time since '83, this is how you start.

This game had an October feel -- October in Siberia, perhaps, but still October.

For the seventh game of the season, it was an absolute classic.

The cold?

Hey, it was Ravens weather.

Still, you know you're in trouble when it's batting practice, and JumboTron is tuned to the Weather Channel.

It was a night when every player had ice water in his veins, even those who can't hit with men in scoring position.

Actually, there was plenty of heat, most of it generated by the players in response to calls by the umpires.

The players were into it, the crowd was into it. Indians fans, the biggest front-runners in sports, were shouted down with chants of "Let's Go Ravens!"

"When you get fans into the ballgame, you get chills and that extra little oomph," said left-hander David Wells, who allowed only six hits in eight innings.

Wells got chills.

The crowd roared when he escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first inning, then stayed behind him every pitch.

"After that first inning, it was dandy," he said.

Hammonds was the biggest hero, making a sliding catch on a sinking line drive by Sandy Alomar with one out in the 10th, then igniting the game-winning rally with a leadoff double off Julian Tavarez.

"It was cold, and I was 0-for-3," Hammonds said. "I don't need to tell you all the cliches. I just tried to hit the ball hard."

Remember how awesome the Indians were in the late innings last season? Remember how awful the Orioles were?

Maybe now that will balance out.

The Orioles' bullpen, such a question at the start of the season, has allowed one unearned run in 17 innings, with Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco getting the final six outs last night.

Beat the Indians in the late innings, and anything is possible. These two teams play 11 more times this season, and then maybe again in the postseason. The Indians won't take 10 of 12 again, that's for sure.

It's a brave new world.

Last season, Andy Van Slyke said the Orioles were so devoid of camaraderie, they needed a pingpong table in the clubhouse.

Wouldn't you know it?

A pingpong table arrived yesterday, courtesy of Wells.

Serve 'em up, pal.

Wells survived his rocky start to pitch a terrific game, retiring 17 of 18 hitters after an RBI double by Carlos Baerga in the third.

OK, so Albert Belle took him deep to right-center with one out in the sixth. But holding the Indians to two runs in eight innings -- who could argue?

Heck, it was all the Orioles could do to forge a 2-2 tie against Jack McDowell, a pitcher who has never lost in six career starts at Camden Yards.

True to form, McDowell allowed only five hits in 6 2/3 innings last night. Palmeiro said it was the best he has thrown since his Cy Young season in 1993.

Still, the Orioles didn't cave.

They battled. They endured.

They got a two-out homer by Chris Hoiles in the fourth, a two-out RBI single by Brady Anderson in the seventh, the one-out single by Palmeiro in the 10th.

They got a total team effort, in the kind of game they always used to lose.

B. J. Surhoff was outstanding at third. Roberto Alomar set a career high with four walks. Tony Tarasco walked and stole second in the seventh, setting up the tying run.

First, we stole its football team.

Now, we're after its baseball team.

Really, Cleveland, it's nothing personal.

Pub Date: 4/11/96

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