Wells' ace deals O's card lead Lefty escapes rocky 1st and goes sterling 7 1/3 to stop White Sox, 5-1

Palmeiro hits 35th homer

Alomar keys 2 rallies as O's win 4th in row

September 11, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

When the Orioles traded for David Wells last winter, manager Davey Johnson described him as a big-game pitcher. Last night, Wells came up huge in the Orioles' biggest game of the season to date.

Wells bounced back from a rocky first inning and, with late-inning help from Alan Mills and Randy Myers, shut down the White Sox, 5-1, at Camden Yards, propelling the Orioles past Chicago into first place in the American League wild-card race.

The Orioles remained 2 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Yankees in the AL East.

Wells (11-13) outlasted Chicago right-hander Kevin Tapani (12-9) in the first game of the three-game series, allowing seven hits in 7 1/3 innings. Roberto Alomar had a bunt single to set up the Orioles' first run, and doubled to ignite a three-run rally in the fifth. Rafael Palmeiro hit his 35th homer as the Orioles won their fourth in a row to move a season-high 12 games over .500 (78-66).

"If we keep playing the way we have the last month, we're going to catch somebody," Alomar said in the happy Ori- oles clubhouse afterward.

The first inning was trench warfare for Wells and Tapani, each starter getting into trouble and having to slug his way out, throwing pitch after pitch after pitch.

The White Sox loaded the bases with nobody out against Wells, and the left-hander fought Danny Tartabull in a monumental 13-pitch at-bat, before striking out Tartabull with a curveball. Robin Ventura hit a sacrifice fly to score a run and Ray Durham flied out to end the inning. Wells had won the battle, holding Chicago to one run, but the inning had taken its toll -- Wells, who hadn't thrown more than 114 pitches in any of his last six starts, had needed 28 pitches to get through the first.

"He really made some quality pitches to Tartabull," Johnson said of Wells. "Coming off three days' rest, getting out of trouble in the first inning, he just pitched a great game."

The Orioles gave Tapani the same treatment, Brady Anderson leading off with a walk and Alomar dropping a bunt single and both runners advancing on a throwing error by Ron Karkovice. A groundout scored Anderson, but before Tapani escaped the first when Tartabull made a lunging grab of Cal Ripken's line drive in right-center, he threw 33 pitches; Tapani needed only 85 in 7 1/3 innings in his last start.

It became a question, then, of which pitcher would recover from the first inning, whether either pitcher would recover at all.

Wells, perhaps helped by the Orioles' long rally in the bottom of the first, needed only seven pitches to get through the top of the second, 12 pitches in the third, and so on, much more efficient, and the White Sox never really challenged him again.

In spite of his rough first inning, Wells had thrown only 80 pitches through the first six innings.

"It was really hot out there, but you've just got to go out and battle, and that's what I did," said Wells. "You've just got to go out there and keep your team close."

Tapani, on the other hand, continued to labor, throwing 20 pitches in the third inning, 12 in the second and the fourth, nothing coming easy. As the fifth inning began, he already had thrown 78 pitches.

With two outs and nobody on in the fifth, Alomar, who is slowly coming out of a two-week malaise that began when he contracted a flu from teammate Cesar Devarez, pulled a double into the right-field corner.

Tapani threw an inside fastball to Todd Zeile, and as Zeile swung and made contact, his bat broke -- a lucky break. The ball blooped off the shattered bat and carried into short left, where it fell in front of Tony Phillips.

Alomar had started moving toward third as Tapani went into his motion, and as Zeile made contact, Alomar was off, sprinting toward third, knowing that even if Phillips reached the ball quickly, third base coach Sam Perlozzo would send him home; there were two outs, Phillips has an erratic throwing arm, and the score was tied.

Phillips gloved the ball on a short hop and unloaded a throw quickly. Alomar raced around third, and about a third of the way down the line, he could see Karkovice moving slightly to foul territory, slightly up the third base line, and Palmeiro waving frantically to him to slide toward first base.

Phillips' throw arrived at the plate area ahead of Alomar, but Alomar slid on his left side, in fair territory and away from Karkovice, and his foot skidded across home. Safe. The Orioles led 2-1.

Before any of the 43,320 fans at Camden Yards could settle back into their seats, Tapani threw Palmeiro a fastball and Palmeiro whacked it over the right-field wall, a two-run shot. The Orioles have hit at least one homer in each of their last 12 games and now are seven home runs short of the all-time record for one season.

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