Murray boom rouses O's, 6-3 Grand slam awakens sleeping offense no-hit by Jays through five

4 walks preceded blast

Coppinger's strong 7 helps keep 'card' lead

September 22, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

One good swing, one hard-hit ball. That's all the Orioles mustered against the Toronto Blue Jays last night, as the Orioles tried to shake themselves from an offensive stupor that has hit them at the worst possible time.

One hard-hit ball. That's all they needed.

The Orioles didn't get any hits until the sixth inning, and didn't get any after it either, but they sandwiched an infield single and a grand slam by Eddie Murray around four walks, and beat Toronto, 6-3.

Rookie Rocky Coppinger, a major question mark for the Orioles over the last 10 days because of stiffness in his pitching forearm and a cut finger, threw seven strong innings to improve his record to 9-6 and outduel Blue Jays right-hander Woody Williams.

"It's good to win a ballgame you're kind of struggling in," said Murray after giving the Orioles their second win in the past five games. "We were getting it stuck to us again."

Murray's grand slam, hit off Blue Jays reliever Scott Brow, was the 19th of his career, advancing Murray past Willie McCovey for No. 2 on the all-time list. Only Yankees legend Lou Gehrig had more. Murray's grand slam also gives him 76 RBIs for the season, and he became the first player in major-league history to drive in 75 runs over 20 consecutive seasons. Hank Aaron drove in 75 runs in 19 straight years.

For another day, the Orioles held their place in the playoff races. They're four games behind the Yankees in the American League East, with New York's magic number down to five, and they're a half-game ahead of Seattle, which won its 10 in a row last night, in the wild-card race.

The Orioles respond to unestablished Toronto pitchers in the same savvy manner Superman deals with kryptonite: They faint away. From Giovanni Carrara to Paul Menhart to Huck Flener, to Woody Williams last night, the tradition of baby Jays shutting down the Orioles is alive and well.

Williams, 30, had surgery on his pitching shoulder last September, and wasn't activated until the end of May. After two appearances, he was back on the disabled list for another month, and didn't return to the big leagues for good until Aug. 8. But Williams threw eight shutout innings against Kansas City Sept. 4, and after a poor outing against Texas Sept. 10 (10 hits and six runs in five innings), Williams beat the Yankees, 3-1, on Sept. 15.

No one would have figured him, however, for the sort of pitcher to throw a no-hitter against the Orioles. Fact is fact -- after five innings, the Orioles had no hits, weren't even making much solid contact, and trailed 2-0. B. J. Surhoff, the final out in the fifth, swung and missed at a pitch low and inside to strike out, and slammed his helmet and flung his bat.

"We were starting to wonder where [offense] was going to come from," Murray said later.

As Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles circled behind home plate umpire Mike Reilly to lead off the bottom of the sixth, the JumboTron displayed a tight TV shot of the scoreboard -- no runs, no hits for the Orioles.

This was a blatant violation of the time-honored superstition that no one should openly acknowledge a no-hitter in progress, but, hey, if Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston is going to order squeeze bunts with a 5-0 lead, as he did Friday, the Orioles' JumboTron crew can put a hex on Toronto.

Shortly thereafter Hoiles topped a grounder to the left side, and Blue Jays third baseman Ed Sprague reached down and fumbled once before getting a grip on the ball and firing to first. The throw reached first ahead of Hoiles, but it was wild, up the first base line, and Hoiles was safe. The play was ruled a hit, and at the least, the Orioles would know they would not be the victims of a no-hitter thrown by Woody Williams.

Brady Anderson grounded into a fielder's choice, and Williams walked Roberto Alomar. Todd Zeile flied to right, the second out, but after swinging and missing the first pitch thrown to him, Rafael Palmeiro walked, loading the bases.

To Gaston and Blue Jays pitching coach Mel Queen, this was a familiar pattern. Since coming back from his surgery, Williams has had a tendency to lose his control all at once, from good to bad. Gaston called to the Toronto bullpen with the order: Get Scott Brow warming up.

Williams threw a ball very high to Bobby Bonilla, and another, not anywhere near the strike zone, and that was enough for Gaston. He called for Brow to pitch with the bases loaded, the count two balls and no strikes on Bonilla.

Johnson, noting how well Williams had been throwing, said, "I was pleased Cito took him out."

Ditto, from Palmeiro: "I was surprised he took him out, as well as he was pitching. But you bring a guy in who's a sinkerball pitcher and hopefully he gets a ground ball out. All I know is, [Williams] was pitching good."

Gaston said: "I felt bad for Woody because he pitched a great game. He just ran out of gas."

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