Orioles take wild-card lead, 5-4 Mussina tops Angels for 17th win as Myers escapes jam in ninth

Missed chances abound

White Sox lose, trail O's by 2 in loss column

August 25, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

The "Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey, Goodbye" song resounded throughout Camden Yards before the ninth inning last night, a eulogy meant for the Chicago White Sox, who had lost to Toronto and were in danger of falling behind the Orioles in the wild-card race.

Considering all that the Orioles would have to endure in the ninth inning, the bases loaded, the count full, prolific California slugger Chili Davis squared off against closer Randy Myers with the Angels down by a run, the song came a little too soon.

But Myers survived a dramatic finish, the Orioles won, 5-4, and they hold the high ground in the wild-card race, moving a half-game ahead of Chicago, two games in the loss column. Mike Mussina pitched seven innings and then like 46,487 fans, he suffered through the ninth inning before his 17th win of the season became official. "We really needed this," Mussina (17-8) said after his sixth win in a row.

The game was, in the words of one Oriole, a Top-Stepper: All the players in the dugout lined up on the top step of the dugout, watching, waiting, wondering. Davey Johnson checked into the hospital three days ago with an accelerated heart rate. And he's back at work watching games like this?

"Games like that," Johnson said, "are really good for your heart. Like running a 440 at full speed."

Said Davis: "I know Davey Johnson was sweating. He just came from the hospital, and I didn't want to give him a heart attack."

The Orioles played the ninth inning knowing they were on the verge of losing a game they should've won easily. The way the first few innings played out, it was as if the Angels were trying to give the game away.

Right-hander Pep Harris made his second career start for California, and he pitched from the stretch against 19 of the 26 hitters he faced because the Orioles had so many runners. He walked the leadoff hitter in the first, second and third innings. Still, the Orioles trailed 2-1 after four innings.

Roberto Alomar was thrown out at the plate in the first inning after third base coach Sam Perlozzo made a rare mistake and waved him homeward. The Orioles had second and third and nobody out in the second and couldn't score. First and second and nobody out in the third, no runs. Aggravating, Johnson said afterward.

The Orioles scored a couple of runs in the fifth and took a 3-2 lead. California scored two in the sixth and moved ahead. The Orioles came right back with two in the bottom of the sixth, a rally set up by Mike Devereaux's pinch-hit triple and a sacrifice bunt by Brady Anderson and completed by Rafael Palmeiro's RBI single.

The stage was set. Everybody in the park knew this: If Myers could hold the Angels scoreless for one inning, the Orioles would lead the wild-card race.

Don Slaught pinch hit for Jorge Fabregas and singled. Rex Hudler pinch hit for George Arias and singled, with pinch runner Orlando Palmeiro stopping at second. The tying and winning runners on base, and both were in scoring position after Randy Velarde dropped a perfect sacrifice bunt.

Myers threw a ball and then another and suddenly he was in danger of walking Jim Edmonds with Tim Salmon and Davis to bat.

Myers whipped a high fastball, and Edmonds swung so hard that he dropped to one knee. A miss. He swung at another fastball, his swing a little more defensive. Strike two. Another fastball, another miss, on a half-hearted swing. Strike three. Oriole Park resonated with cheers.

The right-handed-hitting Salmon walked toward the plate, and Johnson jogged to the mound to ask Myers what he wanted to do. The Orioles had the option of pitching around Salmon with first open, but Myers told Johnson he wanted to aggressively pitch to Salmon. "Randy said, 'I'll back-door slider him,' " Johnson recounted.

Myers got two quick strikes, and tried to snake his slider over the outside corner. Salmon refused to swing. Myers tried tempting him with high, riding fastballs. Salmon wouldn't budge, eventually drawing a walk to load the bases.

Myers walked off to the side of the mound, and untied and retied his shoe, and went back to the mound to face Davis. No one, Jesse Orosco would say later, wants to get in a battle with Chili Davis. Switch-hitter, power, a professional hitter.

But Myers battled Davis. A ball, then a strike. After Myers' second pitch to Davis, he called catcher Cesar Devarez from behind the plate, and hiding his mouth under his glove -- protection against any California lip-readers -- he told Devarez to hold his glove over the outer edge of home. Devarez suggested they use more fastballs, and Myers agreed.

A ball, another strike, and on the 2-2 pitch Davis began to swing at a slider. A checked swing. Devarez pointed toward first base umpire Rich Garcia.

No swing, Garcia ruled, and fans booed. There was no way, Rafael Palmeiro said later, the game would end on a checked swing.

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