Orioles battle back to salvage split Down 6-1 in nightcap, Zeile keys rally 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 would eventually lose, victims of the Orioles' exceptional fortitude in the final five innings.

The Orioles blew a late-inning lead Wednesday night, then saw ace Mike Mussina last only two innings in a disheartening 9-3 loss in the first game of the yesterday's doubleheader. The Yankees 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 American League East were evaporating, and their lead over Seattle in the wild-card race shrinking. But the Orioles came back to win, 10-9, scoring three runs in the eighth off Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera. Todd Zeile singled on an 0-2 pitch to score Roberto Alomar with the lead run. The split allowed the Orioles to remain 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.

Cecil Fielder hit two homers off Wells in the first three innings, including a 446-foot bomb to the back of the Orioles bullpen beyond left field. Feeling good about their chances, a number of Yankees fans began raising brooms in the stands.

However, 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. The Orioles loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the sixth before Yankees manager Joe Torre finally called for relief, left-hander Graeme Lloyd.

But Lloyd was no relief, throwing a wild pitch, giving up an RBI single to Brady Anderson and a run-scoring fly ball by Alomar, 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. Eddie Murray was on second and Chris Hoiles hit a checked-swing blooper to right field. Third base coach Sam Perlozzo frantically waved Murray home, but the veteran hesitated. Once 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 dove away from his tag, grabbing the corner of a 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 Mariano Rivera, the hard-throwing middle reliever who will get some support for the Cy Young Award.

The Orioles ripped him. Alomar doubled, Zeile singled on an 0-2 pitch, Zeile scored on a fielder's choice grounder, and Cal Ripken smashed a long double to right-center, giving the Orioles a 10-7 lead.

Williams hit his second homer of the game in the ninth, a two-run shot off Alan Mills, and Randy Myers pitched the final two-thirds of the inning to gain his 30th save.

Mussina had thrown only three or four pitches in the first inning yesterday before a few scouts sitting behind home plate knew he was going to have a bad day.

Mussina's first five pitches were breaking balls and changeups -- a sign his fastball wasn't very good -- and Mussina couldn't throw strikes. If the scouts knew, imagine what must've been going through the mind of Orioles manager Davey Johnson, as he watched his ace flounder in the first inning of the most pivotal game of the season.

The Yankees' Kenny Rogers, supposedly hampered by a sore arm and whose status was questionable right up until the start of the series, pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings for the victory, New York's 10th in 12 games against the Orioles this season.

Mussina warmed up to start Tuesday, and threw 16 pitches before crew chief Joe Brinkman, pointing through a downpour, waved the players off the field. Johnson and pitching coach Pat JTC Dobson both expressed the hope that Mussina would be able to start either game of yesterday's doubleheader; they wanted their best pitcher to throw in the Orioles' biggest series of the year.

Mussina wasn't sure if he'd be OK, telling reporters he'd wait until Wednesday before seeing if he was stiff and he'd be able to pitch; maybe, Mussina suggested, he'd be ready to come back Friday or Saturday.

Finally, after Wednesday night's loss, Johnson conferred with Mussina and they agreed he'd pitch the first game of yesterday's doubleheader.

There's no telling whether Mussina felt fatigued when he took the mound, or if he just pitched poorly, or if felt overwhelmed by the circumstances; Mussina declined a request to speak to reporters between games of the doubleheader. Whatever the reasons, he pitched terribly in a game the Orioles had to win to stay in serious contention for the AL East race.

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