Orioles avert disaster, but what's next?

September 20, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

NEW YORK -- It doesn't get much more bleak.

The bases were loaded. Cecil Fielder had already hit two homers. The Orioles trailed, 6-1.

They had lost Game 1, 9-3. Now it was the fourth inning of Game 2, and manager Davey Johnson wasn't about to let David Wells face Fielder again.

Only in baseball could a team rally from such dire straits for its most important victory of the season.

Only in a pennant race could a team go from utter dejection to utter elation so quickly, and still not know what tomorrow would bring.

The Orioles won Game 2, 10-9.

They won because Terry Mathews retired Fielder and went on to pitch 3 1/3 innings for the victory after five runs scored on his first six pitches in Game 1.

They won because Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera allowed three runs in the eighth after pitching 1 2/3 perfect innings the previous night.

And they won because Yankees manager Joe Torre stuck too long with David Cone, who was coming off his abbreviated start in Tuesday night's rainout.

"Ever seen a clubhouse this excited after losing two of three?" asked Todd Zeile, who went 3-for-5 with four RBIs.

It was stunning, all right -- almost as stunning as Randy Myers earning his 30th save after getting removed in the middle of an inning the night before.

With one out in the ninth, Bernie Williams hit a two-run shot off Alan Mills for his second homer of the game to pull the Yankees within one run.

Mills rallied to strike out Fielder, then Johnson summoned Myers to strike out pinch hitter Tino Martinez for the final out.

Johnson never used left-hander Jesse Orosco, pinning Wade Boggs and Darryl Strawberry to the Yankees' bench and preventing Torre from using Martinez earlier.

It was all worth it in the end.

The Orioles probably won't win the American League East now that they trail the Yankees by four games with 10 to play. But their lead over surging Seattle in the wild-card race is still 1 1/2 games.

With seven games remaining against Toronto, the Orioles just might have salvaged their postseason chances in Game 2, just hours after their most embarrassing defeat of the season.

Maybe Torre wants them to get there, the way he managed last night.

He could have removed Cone during the fifth, before Zeile hit a two-run single to cut the lead to 6-3.

He could have removed him at the start of the sixth after Cone already had qualified for the victory.

And he definitely should have removed him during the ensuing three-run rally, which began with Cone allowing a double, single and walk.

For those wishing to send thank-you notes, Torre's address is Yankee Stadium, Bronx, N.Y., 10451.

Every Oriole should write.

Only four months ago, Cone underwent surgery to remove an aneurysm from his right arm. He threw only 97 pitches last night, but it seemed pointless to go with him so long.

"As long as he tells me his arm isn't hurting, I have to trust him," Torre said.

Were the Orioles surprised Cone stayed in?

"Nothing he does surprises me," Brady Anderson said. "I was surprised when he came out."

Whatever, the Orioles broke the tie in the seventh on a Chris Hoiles single, but the Yankees came back to tie the score on Williams' leadoff homer off Mathews in the bottom half.

It was the only blemish on Mathews' remarkable performance, considering the beating he took in Game 1.

"I would say that is probably the first time I've thrown in two games in one day," Mathews said.

Mills replaced him in the eighth, one night after suffering a crushing 3-2 loss in 10 innings.

That defeat, followed by the Game 1 rout, followed by the five-run deficit in Game 2, had the Yankees fans chanting "Sweep!" in the fourth inning.

The comeback helped negate Mike Mussina's disastrous two-inning start in the opener. Mussina has thrown nearly 230 innings this season, and appears tired.

"I felt lost," he said after the doubleheader. "I just have to keep plugging away. I'm not physically hurt. I'm just not getting it done."

On this day, he did not handle the ace's burden nearly as well as Cone, and it might change the way the Orioles perceive his long-term value to the club.

Mussina is a tremendous competitor, but he prefers to work under ideal circumstances, and in a pennant race that's not always possible.

He threw 16 pitches in Tuesday's rainout, and didn't seem enthusiastic about returning to the mound so quickly.

"He was just uncomfortable coming back," Johnson said. "It broke up the normal routine for him.

"He handled the three days' rest pretty good a few times, then complained of stiffness, and we backed off with him. Maybe this was asking too much."

Perhaps, but Mussina also blew a 2-0 lead in his previous start against Chicago, allowing six runs in 3 2/3 innings.

He's 13-6 lifetime in September, but this is his first experience pitching in games of this magnitude.

The Orioles need better, but that's an issue for another day.

They were dead, and now they're alive.

Only in baseball.

Only in a pennant race.

Only in this wacky soap opera of a season that still hasn't taken its final twist.

Pub Date: 9/20/96

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