Suddenly, it's O's who refuse to lose

September 12, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal

This was the game they were supposed to lose, the game they did their best to lose, and still the Orioles won.

Could it be they've turned the corner?

Could it be they don't know how to lose in September anymore?

They started a pitcher they demoted three times this season. They blew a three-run lead in the eighth inning. They didn't even hit a home run.

And still, they won.

They won because Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Bonilla led off the 10th with back-to-back singles, and Eddie Murray scored Palmeiro with a one-out sacrifice fly.

They won because the reborn Alan Mills pitched a perfect ninth and 10th after the White Sox tied the score.

They won because, suddenly, it's what they do.

Last night's 7-6 victory over Chicago gave the Orioles a 1 1/2 -game lead over the White Sox in the wild-card race, and kept them within 2 1/2 games of the first-place New York Yankees in the AL East.

Tonight, they can post a three-game sweep of a team over .500 for the first time this season, with Mike Mussina attempting to become their first 20-game winner since Mike Boddicker in 1984.

"This team pretty much came together a month ago. It's an incredible feeling," Palmeiro said. "We're playing great. Everyone is focused. Everyone is trying to get to the same destination. It took us awhile to get it, but now we've got it."

Boy, have they got it.

Last night they were in tough. Last night was Rick Krivda vs. Wilson Alvarez. And last night looked in serious jeopardy when Lyle Mouton hit a two-run homer off the Orioles' most effective reliever, Jesse Orosco, to tie the score in the eighth.

White Sox closer Roberto Hernandez entered the game with two outs in the bottom of the inning, and struck out four of the first five hitters he faced. But Mills was every bit his equal, giving the Orioles a chance to win in the 10th.

Single to right by Palmeiro. Another single to right by Bonilla, who had ended Alvarez's shutout and tied the score with a two-out, bases-loaded triple in the sixth, perhaps the biggest hit of his Orioles career.

Palmeiro raced to third, and White Sox manager Terry Bevington brought the infield in. When Hernandez struck out Cal Ripken, it looked as if Chicago still might escape.

But then came Murray, one of the great clutch hitters in the history of the game, and still a force with a runner on third and less than two out, even at the age of 40.

"My job was to try to get the ball in the air somehow," Murray said.

He got ahead of Hernandez 3-0, then appeared to draw ball four, but plate umpire Gary Cederstrom called strike one. The count went full. Murray fouled off two pitches. And then he hit his fly ball, just deep enough to center to score Palmeiro.

The crowd chanted "Ed-die! Ed-die!" as Murray conducted a postgame radio interview in front of the Orioles' dugout.

"The Yankees, we can actually catch them," he said.

Yes, they can.

"I think now they believe they can win," bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks said. "Before, they thought they could win, but they didn't know how."

Maybe Murray taught them. Maybe they just needed time to jell. Who can explain these things? Right now, the Orioles are content to ride the wave, and see how high they can soar.

After tonight, they play three games in Detroit, then one at home against Milwaukee before heading to New York for a monumental three-game series at Yankee Stadium.

A series that would have spelled doom for all those Orioles teams of the early '90s that weren't good enough or gutsy enough to withstand such pressure.

A series they can win now.

Krivda kept them close last night, falling behind 3-0, but working into the sixth inning -- "just Krivda keeping us in the ballgame was a big lift to us, not letting the game get out of hand," Bonilla said.

And when the Orioles rallied to score six runs with two outs in their half of the sixth, it looked as if they might win easily.

"The sixth inning is what made it kind of tough -- we just had a bad sixth inning," Bevington said. "Other than that, we played very well. But it's the whole game. We can't subtract innings. It doesn't work that way."

Still, the White Sox recovered. Terry Mathews allowed a killer leadoff walk in the eighth, and Orosco gave up triple to Robin Ventura and Mouton's homer. Just like that, the score was tied, with Hernandez looming.

"Boom, bang and they're back in it," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said.

Enter Mills.

He started the ninth by retiring Frank Thomas on a deep fly to center for the second straight night. He then struck out Danny Tartabull and Ventura, and Hernandez countered by striking out the side.

Mills followed with another perfect inning, and given one more chance, the Orioles finally got to Hernandez.

It was a game they were supposed to lose, a game they did their best to lose.

But these Orioles are different.

These Orioles won.

Pub Date: 9/12/96

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