When in need of a big run, Orioles manager Davey Johnson never tells a batter to hit a home run, his theory being that it would add pressure. No, Johnson merely asked Jeffrey Hammonds to hit a double leading off the bottom of the 10th inning last night at Camden Yards.
Hammonds obliged, and after Brady Anderson bunted him to third base and the Indians intentionally walked Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro lined a single into the right-field corner to score Hammonds and give the Orioles a 3-2 victory over Cleveland -- the Indians' first regular-season loss in extra innings since July 20, 1994.
After the game, Indians reliever Paul Assenmacher, who allowed Palmeiro's hit, was told that his father, Leo Assenmacher, had died earlier in the day. His brother asked team officials to wait until after the game to deliver the news.
David Wells pitched eight strong innings for the Orioles, allowing two runs on six hits and lowering his ERA to 1.80. Anderson tied the game with a two-out single off Jack McDowell in the bottom of the seventh, and the Orioles improved to 6-1.
"A lot of people are looking at this as a preview of the playoffs, which may be true," Palmeiro said. "But if we won this one or lost, it's still just one game."
One "good game," Hammonds called it later, with playoff intensity, terrific pitching and managers on both sides making moves and moving pieces.
Hammonds made a sliding catch to stave off a Cleveland rally in the top of the 10th, and as he waited to lead off in the bottom of the inning, he stood alongside Johnson. That's when his manager told him to hit a double.
"I remember his saying, 'Let's get things started,' " Hammonds said later. "I was just concentrating on the pitcher."
Hammonds got ahead of Cleveland reliever Julian Tavarez and lined a shot into the left-field corner for a double. Left-hander Assenmacher relieved Tavarez, and Anderson sacrificed Hammonds to third.
Roberto Alomar was intentionally walked -- his fourth walk of the game -- so Assenmacher could face the left-handed hitting Palmeiro and set up a possible double play. Palmeiro could not recall the last time the hitter ahead of him had been intentionally walked.
"It wasn't an insult at all," Palmeiro said. "The way I looked at it was that it gave me the opportunity to win the game. With a runner on third, I like my chances."
Palmeiro wanted to hit the ball in the air. That's all he
concentrated on, getting the ball up and to the outfield. He turned on a breaking ball and ripped a liner, fair by a few feet; Cleveland right fielder Manny Ramirez didn't even bother to give chase.
Roger McDowell pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings in relief of Wells, and Jesse Orosco (1-0) got the final out in the 10th for the victory. The Orioles' bullpen has not allowed an earned run this season.
For nine innings, the Indians and Orioles traded shots, one team seizing the advantage, then the other.
Carlos Baerga doubled home Kenny Lofton in the third inning, the Indians' first run. Chris Hoiles tied the score in the fourth with a home run, the 100th of his career.
Albert Belle crushed an outside fastball over the wall in center field in the sixth -- Wells later would call it his only bad pitch of the night -- to give the Indians a 2-1 lead.
The way Cleveland closer Jose Mesa dominated last year, the way the Indians dominated in the late innings, the Orioles had to feel they were running out of chances.
Indians starter Jack McDowell allowed one run through the first six innings, and he struck out Hoiles on three pitches to open the seventh. But McDowell walked Tony Tarasco, and with the count 0-2 on Hammonds, Tarasco stole second. Hammonds struck out, the second out.
Anderson was next, the first of three successive hitters historically weaker against left-handers, and this was a moment of decision for Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove: Should he bring in left-hander Jim Poole, warmed and ready to go in the bullpen, or let McDowell pitch to Anderson, 6-for-41 (.146) in his career against McDowell.
Hargrove stuck with McDowell, who fell behind Anderson two balls and no strikes. McDowell fought back to 2-2, then threw a strike -- which Anderson whacked through the middle.
Tarasco scored the tying run standing up, with the crowd of 45,097 standing with him.
Hargrove then replaced McDowell, who walked off shaking his head.
"I thought he would be looking for an off-speed pitch," McDowell said. "I threw him a fastball and it didn't work out."
The Orioles had few opportunities early against McDowell, but they ran themselves out of a rally in the first inning. Alomar walked with one out, and with the count 2-0 to Palmeiro, Alomar broke for second a moment before McDowell started his delivery.
Palmeiro pulled a grounder through the first-base hole. Alomar stopped briefly at second, deked by Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel, before scurrying onward.