It's not over.
The Cleveland Indians are the defending American League champions, and the Orioles still must knock them out.
"I never take anything for granted," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said after yesterday's 7-4 victory at Camden Yards.
How can he, when the opponent is Mike Tyson?
Guaranteed, the Indians will come off the ropes swinging when this American League Division Series resumes in Cleveland tomorrow afternoon.
But one victory in three games, that's all the Orioles need to secure their biggest postseason upset since the 1966 World Series.
No one expected them to take a two games to none lead when this best-of-five series began.
But then, no one expected them to rally for the wild-card berth when they entered August with a record barely above .500.
The team is unpredictable.
The sport is unpredictable.
And now the games are unpredictable, too.
Only this season could the Orioles blow a 4-0 lead, then break an eighth-inning tie on a controversial play resulting from a tapper to the mound.
Only this season could an erratic, second-year relief pitcher like Armando Benitez take a dramatic turn in the October spotlight.
Only this season could a slugging supernova like Brady Anderson continue hitting a home run a day in the most important games of his career.
All of those subplots unfolded yesterday before a roaring crowd of 48,970, the largest in the five-year history of Camden Yards.
It's not over.
Don't whisper the word "sweep," don't plan yet for an American League Championship Series showdown with the New York Yankees or Texas Rangers.
Just know that history favors the Orioles.
Of the 20 teams that have taken 2-0 leads in best-of-five playoffs, 17 have gone on to win the series.
"We were looking for a split," Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar said. "We never thought it was going to be 2-0."
But right now, this team is charmed.
So charmed, Alomar will continue playing after dropping the appeal of his suspension last night and agreeing to miss the first five games of next season.
The Orioles will need him in Cleveland.
Even with their seemingly insurmountable advantage, the Orioles will need contributions from all of their star players, and perhaps a few breaks.
It's not over. Just last season, the Seattle Mariners rallied to defeat the Yankees in the Division Series after losing the first two games in New York.
It's not over, but the Orioles have yet to trail in this series, scoring 17 runs against the Indians' pitching staff, the best in the AL.
And tomorrow, staff ace Mike Mussina will face Jack McDowell, a pitcher who is 0-4 lifetime in the postseason.
Mussina lost critical games to New York and Chicago in September, but rebounded with eight strong innings in the wild-card clincher against Toronto.
The bad news?
Mussina was 0-2 with a 14.81 earned run average against Cleveland this season, and the Orioles have lost 11 of their past 13 games at Jacobs Field.
No, it's not over.
It never is, against the Indians.
This is a team that won 29 games last season in its last turn at bat.
A team that thrives in the rollicking atmosphere of its home field.
A team that held an impromptu dugout meeting and struck back almost immediately yesterday after falling behind 4-0.
"When I was with them last year, no lead was big enough," said Bill Ripken, the Orioles infielder who spent last September with the Indians.
"They could be down five runs in the eighth inning, and they wouldn't care, even if the first guy made an out. They don't believe in surrender."
Indeed, the Indians won the American League title last season after losing the opener at home to Seattle and then falling behind two games to one in a best-of-seven series.
"What we have to avoid is playing tight," Indians general manager John Hart said. "They still have to win one game. This is not a done deal yet."
A loss tomorrow, and the entire dynamic changes. But what was it Earl Weaver said? Momentum is the next day's starting pitcher.
Even if Mussina loses, the Orioles will have David Wells ready for Game 4 and Scott Erickson available for Game 5.
Both are accustomed to working on short rest, and both outpitched their Indians opponents in the first two games of this series.
Then there are the bullpens.
Last season, relief pitching was a critical, but often overlooked, element in the Indians' success.
But in this series, their relievers have allowed six runs in 5 2/3 innings, and the Orioles have yet to face closer Jose Mesa, because the Indians have never led.
It's not over, but after two games, the Indians' team earned-run average is 9.00.
It's not over, but Cal Ripken has as many hits (five) as Albert Belle, Julio Franco and Manny Ramirez combined.
Don't tell the Orioles.
"We should go in there thinking that we have no advantage at all, because Cleveland is arguably the best team in the American League this year," Cal Ripken said.
Cleveland is the defending champion.
Down but not out, until the Orioles apply the knockout punch.
Pub Date: 10/03/96