Orioles battle back to salvage split Down 6-1 in nightcap, O's get Zeile lift to end Yanks series in 10-9 win

Mussina lasts 2 in 9-3 opener

Avoiding sweep keeps O's within 4 games

Al East Showdown

September 20, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- The Yankees had one victory in hand yesterday and led the Orioles 6-1 in the fourth inning of the second game, and New York fans, who never miss an opportunity to humiliate, denigrate or otherwise insult, began the inevitable chant: SWEEP! SWEEP!

A nice idea. Just one problem: The Yankees eventually would lose the second game of the doubleheader, 10-9, victims of an extraordinary Orioles comeback. Todd Zeile had two critical hits and drove in four runs, and the Orioles beat hard-throwing Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera (7-3).

Orioles third base coach Sam Perlozzo glanced around the clubhouse, nodding at the players dressing happily, music pumping loudly in the background. "They showed me something," Perlozzo said. "Just when you think they're going to fold, they come back and surprise you."

They surprised the Yankees, maybe even surprised themselves, after getting the worst of the rumble in the Bronx for most of two days. The Orioles blew a late-inning lead in Wednesday night's wrenching 3-2 loss in 10 innings, then saw ace Mike Mussina last only two innings in a disheartening 9-3 loss in the first game of yesterday's doubleheader.

The Yankees, winners of eight of their last nine going into the nightcap, savaged Orioles starter David Wells in the first four innings of the second game, and down five runs, the Orioles faced disaster. Their hopes of winning the AL East were evaporating, and their lead over Seattle in the wild-card race shrinking, and the Yankees fans were chanting. Sweep. All the Orioles heard it.

"You better wait until there are two outs in the ninth to do that," said pitching coach Pat Dobson. "They started too early. The boys got a little excited."

The Orioles are four games behind the Yankees in the AL East race, their chances of winning the division fading, but they lead Seattle in the wild-card chase by 1 1/2 games. They lost two of three to the Yankees in this series and 10 of 13 this season, but left New York ecstatic, because of the way they came back.

"Honestly," said Mussina, "it might have saved our year."

"We're not out of this thing," said manager Davey Johnson, referring to the AL East race. "They've got eight games with Boston this week and anything can happen."

Brady Anderson said: "To be in the position we're in right now, after coming from where we were, is pretty impressive."

They were dead. Cecil Fielder hit two homers off Wells in the first three innings, including a 446-foot shot to the back of the Orioles bullpen beyond left field. The Yankees scored two runs in the fourth and loaded the bases, and right-hander Terry Mathews replaced Wells. The Orioles dugout, Perlozzo remembered, was absolutely silent, a pocket of stillness in an otherwise raucous Yankee Stadium.

Mathews retired Fielder on a fly out, but at the time, it seemed as if Mathews (2-1) had only saved the Orioles the humiliation of a one-sided losses in both games of the doubleheader. In retrospect, catcher Chris Hoiles thought, it might have been the biggest out of the game, a turning point.

Yankees starter David Cone was pitching on shortened rest, as Mussina had tried to do, and he began to disintegrate in the fifth inning, allowing two runs on consecutive singles by Anderson and Roberto Alomar, a balk and a two-run single by Zeile.

Now within three runs, Perlozzo said, the Orioles began to feel as if they were within shooting distance.

New York pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre chatted with Cone after the fifth, asking him how he felt, and Cone convinced him he was OK, he wanted to stay in the game.

But Murray doubled to lead off the Orioles' sixth, and B. J. Surhoff singled Murray to third. Yankees manager Joe Torre trotted to the mound to check on Cone, and again, the veteran was convincing; he wanted to pitch to Hoiles, who was pinch hitting for Mark Parent.

Cone walked Hoiles on four pitches, and Torre finally called for relief, left-hander Graeme Lloyd, who was no relief. Lloyd threw a wild pitch, giving up an RBI single to Anderson and a run-scoring fly ball, and the Orioles dugout was alive. Tie score, 6-6.

The Orioles moved ahead in the top of the seventh on a broken, bizarre play. Murray was on second and Hoiles hit a one-out, checked-swing blooper to right. Third base coach Perlozzo frantically waved Murray home, but the veteran hesitated. Once first baseman Fielder cut off the throw home near first, Hoiles was caught between first and second.

Fielder looked at Murray, then moved to tag Hoiles. But Hoiles scampered back and dived away from his tag, grabbing the corner of the base in a slide that would've made Alomar proud. Fielder lunged and failed to tag Hoiles, and as he tried, Murray raced home.

The Yankees tied the score at 7-7 in the bottom of the inning, when Bernie Williams blasted a homer to right. Torre went to Rivera, the hard-throwing middle reliever who will get some support for the Cy Young Award.

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