Murray HRs give Orioles mini-sweep No. 497 of career breaks tie in 8th, helps top Brewers, 8-5

Alomar also homers twice

Team within 3 1/2 in wild-card race

August 15, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Eddie Murray did not come back to Baltimore to be a sentimental ornament. He isn't interested in participating in a one-man reunion tour, like Frank Sinatra doing one last weekend in Las Vegas. Murray wants to win, and hit his 500th homer along the way, and he's investing himself physically and emotionally to that end.

Murray and Roberto Alomar each hit two homers yesterday, for Murray his 496th and 497th of his career, and the Orioles survived the Milwaukee Brewers, 8-5. When it was over, after Randy Myers registered his 23rd save, Murray stood at the top step of the dugout and waited for his teammates to come off the field, and to each he offered a wide selection of salutations, learned across two decades of playing baseball. High-fives, handshakes or fist bumps, or whatever seemed appropriate for the moment.

The Orioles swept the two-game mini-homestand, and although short, it was their first successful homestand since late May, another sign they are playing better. They've won 11 of their past 15 games, and moved to within 3 1/2 games of the Chicago White Sox in the American League wild-card race, remaining 7 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East standings.

They nearly gave away yesterday's game, under extenuating circumstances. The Orioles took a three-run lead in the first inning, and with left-hander David Wells starting against the Brewers, a three-run lead normally would be a done deal.

But Orioles manager Davey Johnson noticed immediately that Wells, usually vocal and loud and boisterous when he pitches, was quiet and sullen, and ineffective. He walked two of the first three hitters in the top of the second inning, and Milwaukee tied the game with three runs in the second. Alomar homered leading off the second and Murray homered in the third, and the Orioles had a 5-3 advantage.

Even with a second chance, Wells seemed to lack his usual zest, and while the Orioles batted in the bottom of the fifth inning, Johnson found out why: Wells told Johnson he'd better get somebody warmed up for the sixth, because he'd heard hours before the game that a close family friend had died. "Considering the circumstances," said Johnson, "he pitched pretty well." (Later, Wells quietly declined to speak to reporters, beyond confirming what he told Johnson.)

Roger McDowell relieved Wells with one out in the sixth, a runner on second, and again, the Orioles' bullpen frittered away a lead. Matt Mieske's sacrifice fly scored John Jaha with Milwaukee's fourth run, and Jeff Cirillo tied the game with a bases-empty homer off McDowell in the seventh.

Milwaukee loaded the bases in the eighth against right-hander Alan Mills, two walks sandwiched around a double by pinch hitter Jose Valentin (fortunately for the Orioles, Valentin's shot bounced into the stands, and pinch runner David Hulse, the potential lead run, had to stop at third).

Left-hander Mike Milchin replaced Mills with one out, and struck out pinch hitter Jesse Levis looking with an extraordinary curveball on three balls and two strikes -- a pitch that required major fortitude from catcher Chris Hoiles, who called for the curve, and Milchin, who threw it, a pitch that drew much praise from the Brewers after the game.

Milchin escaped the inning when he retired Fernando Vina on a pop-up in front of the plate, but the Orioles' outlook was still a little bleak. Johnson had used most of his bullpen strength trying to snuff out the Brewers in the seventh and eighth innings, and the Orioles had mustered but one hit in innings two through seven.

Ricky Bones was pitching for the Brewers, and Murray led off the bottom of the eighth. After taking a pitch for a ball, Murray locked in on a fastball. As he swung and made contact, Bones went down on the mound to a squatting position -- Oh, no -- and on the Orioles' bench, players rose, from one end to the other, to see if the ball would go out.

It did, and Murray crossed home to a spirited chant of Ed-die, Ed-die, from the crowd of 47,480. Murray came out for a curtain call, and three batters later, Alomar did too, after hitting his second homer of the day and his 19th of 1996, a career high.

Said Alomar, "When you get an Eddie Murray-type player, he has to help us. He knows how to keep us pumped up. . . . He's not complaining about being in the designated hitter spot. He's doing that job and doing a good job."

Murray's value to the Orioles has gone far beyond the six homers he's hit in three weeks. Murray, Johnson says (and at least some players agree), has galvanized the Orioles' clubhouse. He is a means of communications where there wasn't communication before -- or at least communication that is respected.

During games, Murray walks up and down the dugout with a bat in his hand, reminding players of the game situation, counseling hitters to stay patient, offering bits of information on pitchers. Lee May used to do the same for him, when Murray was a young player.

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