O's, Johnson go distance, 7-6 Skipper's mound treks, 3 homers beat Seattle, retain wild-card tie

September 01, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- Three games in three days against the Seattle Mariners and Davey Johnson's voice has been reduced to little more than a whisper. "I don't know who I've been yelling at," the Orioles manager said after yesterday's 7-6 victory over Seattle, "but I've been yelling at somebody."

His feet must hurt, too, from walking to the mound to change pitchers or discuss strategy. His right arm must be sore, from pointing to the bullpen for a reliever -- 15 in three games. His brain certainly aches, from the mind games he and Mariners manager Lou Piniella have been playing.

"I know Lou's worn out," Johnson said. "These games are wearing me out. It feels like we're in the playoffs already."

If he continues to make the right moves and his players, particularly his relievers, continue to execute, the Orioles will be in the playoffs soon enough. At least Johnson doesn't have to worry about the offense: Just line them up and let them bash.

The Orioles hit three homers and, with a month to go in the season, they smashed the club record for homers, 214 set in 1985. Pete Incaviglia hit his second homer in two games since joining the Orioles, Brady Anderson hit his 41st of '96, and Bobby Bonilla hit his 22nd and the Orioles' 215th of the season. They hammered Jamie Moyer, who had beaten the Orioles three times, for six hits and four runs over three-plus innings.

The Orioles kept pace with Chicago in the wild-card race, and lead Seattle by two games. New York won last night to retain its four-game AL East lead.

The Orioles are 72-63 and today, for the fifth time this year, they will try to improve their record to 10 games over .500 (four times they've tried and failed).

Just about every game between the Orioles and Mariners has played to form. Lots of runs, lots of homers, the outcome in doubt, and always -- always -- it seems as if the top of the Seattle lineup is due to bat in the ninth inning.

It happened Thursday, when the Mariners loaded the bases and Mark Whiten hit a grand slam to beat Randy Myers, 9-6. It `D happened Friday, when Alan Mills came on to relieve Myers and retire Jay Buhner and Brian Hunter, each representing the tying run. And it happened yesterday.

The Orioles took a 7-5 lead into the bottom of the eighth, and both managers had nearly their full complement of relievers and pinch hitters available. Before the game, Johnson and Piniella chatted behind the batting cage, comparing strategy from Friday night.

The fact that Johnson used Mills to finish that game, Piniella told Johnson, meant that he'd have to leave the left-handed-hitting Paul Sorrento in the game longer. "And did you notice where Whiten's hitting today?" Piniella asked coyly; he had moved Whiten, a switch-hitter, to sixth in the lineup, with the idea of forcing Johnson to use an extra reliever.

Bench coach Andy Etchebarren walked up and said, "It's fun to watch you two guys go at it."

They went at it hard in the final two innings yesterday. Buhner led off the eighth with a single off right-hander Archie Corbin, and Johnson called on left-hander Jesse Orosco, who hit Whiten with a pitch.

Joey Cora pinch hit for Sorrento, intending to bunt, and the game was delayed for several minutes for small conferences. Cal Ripken talked to Orosco, Roberto Alomar met with Rafael Palmeiro, Seattle third base coach John McLaren ran down to whisper in Cora's ear. Finally, plate umpire Drew Coble told everybody to play.

Cora bunted the runners ahead. With first base open, Johnson called for Mills to pitch to the right-handed-hitting Dan Wilson, whose grounder scored Buhner. Dave Hollins flied out to the base of the center-field wall to end the inning, the Orioles clinging to a one-run lead.

The top of the Seattle lineup was due to hit in the ninth, Rich Amaral, followed by Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Edgar Martinez. "Murderer's Row," Johnson mused.

Corbin finished his ice treatment in the trainer's room, put on a jacket and went back out to the bench to watch. He wasn't going to miss this, another ninth-inning episode between the Orioles and Mariners. "It's too exciting," he said.

Mills started the ninth, and Doug Strange pinch hit for Amaral and struck out. Rodriguez struck out, and with Griffey due to hit, Johnson thought about leaving Mills, throwing very well, on the mound. But he called for a left-hander, Myers. Griffey laced a single to right. "I probably over-managed," Johnson confessed later.

Martinez was next, and Johnson made another change ("They were wearing a path between the mound and the bullpen," said Anderson from his center-field perspective), relieving Myers with Armando Benitez.

Johnson said later he knew nothing of how Benitez gave up a grand slam to Martinez last year. "That was last year," Johnson said. "I just know how he's throwing -- he's been throwing outstanding -- and he's certainly capable of getting one out."

Martinez patiently waited on Benitez, to a full count, and Benitez came back with a fastball. Martinez swung and missed, and Orioles owner Peter Angelos, watching from the stands, stood and clapped. It felt like October on Aug. 31.

"Both teams know how important every game is from here on out," said Anderson. "We have to treat it like the postseason."

Pub Date: 9/01/96

Rallying cries

If the Orioles, 12 games back on July 28, overtake the Yankees, their recovery will be one of the greatest in major-league history. The best comebacks ever, with largest deficit and date comeback began:

Year Team .. .. .. .. ..GB .. .. ..Start

1914 Bos. Braves .. .. .15 .. ...July 16

1978 N.Y. Yankees .. ...14 .. .. July 20

1995 Sea. Mariners .. ..13 .. .. .Aug. 3

1951 N.Y. Giants .. ...13 .. ...Aug. 12

N.Y. Mets .. .. ...12 1/2 .. ...July 9

1911 Phila. A's .. .. ..12 .. .. .May 20

1930 St. L. Cards .. ...12 .. .. .Aug. 9

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