ATLANTA -- The Orioles took their first bite of interleague play last night. They found the experience delicious but as hard to swallow as a Turner Field $3.50 Coke.
After using a National League stylebook to manufacture a
four-run sixth inning against Greg Maddux, the Orioles and a nervous bullpen survived a power-driven comeback by the NL champion Atlanta Braves to claim a 4-3 win before a surprisingly split crowd of 48,334 at Turner Field.
The Orioles won with a five-single, one-bunt sixth inning behind Jimmy Key (11-1). The Braves tried to counter in American League fashion, slamming two eighth-inning home runs off Armando Benitez. What both teams tried to downplay as meaningful beforehand took on the intensity of an October event.
How seriously do the Braves take this interleague stuff?
Manager Bobby Cox sent today's starting pitcher, John Smoltz, home before the game to miss the 86-degree heat.
How seriously did the Orioles respond?
Manager Davey Johnson proved his ability to run an NL game by pulling a triple switch before the Braves' final at-bat. Closer Randy Myers rewarded the strategy by retiring the side in order for his 21st save in 22 chances.
"We looked like a National League team out there. We're bunting, hit-and-running, stealing bases and playing good defense. They wanted to play long ball on us," said Johnson, who pulled the slick ninth-inning triple switch "just to see if I still had it."
Asked point-blank if the Orioles would have won last night's game last year, Johnson said no.
"We're the American League team and we scored our runs with bunts and singles and a hit-and-run," said Key, who became the first Orioles pitcher to bat since July 21, 1993. "They're hitting home runs to come back. You figure it out."
The Braves never figured out Key, who has twice won clinching games against them in the World Series. Key allowed five hits, three walks and one run in 6 2/3 innings.
The Orioles, meanwhile, looked like a different team than the one that ineptly tried to sacrifice runners last weekend in Chicago. Against Maddux, they resigned themselves to hitting to the opposite field and cutting down their swings with two strikes. Pitching coach Ray Miller had made a notation on his cheat sheet before the game. Beside Maddux's name he scribbled, "First pitch. HACK."
The Orioles followed Miller's reminder perhaps too well during the first three innings. Maddux (7-3) needed only four pitches to get out of the first inning, seven to clear the second and 10 to escape the third, putting him on pace for a 63-pitch complete game.
Key was less efficient but more effective.
The Braves sought to immediately exploit the Orioles' biggest defensive shortcoming in the first inning when Michael Tucker singled with one out, then stole second and third. Key sidestepped the threat by striking out Chipper Jones, walking Fred McGriff on a full count, then getting Andruw Jones on a fielder's choice.
Key escaped the third inning with a double play. In the fourth, he walked McGriff and Andruw Jones with one out, but again escaped by getting Eddie Perez to fly out and Ryan Klesko to strike out for the first of three times.
Maddux finally tripped in the sixth.
No. 8 hitter Mike Bordick became the first leadoff hitter to reach against him by drilling a single. In an instructive moment for some of the Orioles' low-end hitters, Key executed a perfect bunt to advance Bordick.
The Orioles went about killing Maddux with feather touches, never reaching for an extra-base hit, much less a home run.
Hitting .405 with men on, Brady Anderson looped a broken-bat hit that scored Bordick for the game's first run. Roberto Alomar extended a hot run by also singling.
Both Anderson and Alomar benefited from 2-0 counts, but Maddux's biggest mistake was allowing Rafael Palmeiro a flare on an 0-2 pitch, scoring Anderson for a 2-0 lead. Palmeiro has hit in 13 of 14 games, but few have been as important as his broken-bat job against Maddux.
"I'm sure he wanted to go away," Palmeiro said, "but he probably made a mistake getting it up. I just went with it."
The inning gained further momentum when Cal Ripken exploited a double steal by chopping a single through a hole vacated by second baseman Mark Lemke.
Alomar scored. Palmeiro took third. With another piece of professional hitting, B. J. Surhoff completed the rally with a two-strike sacrifice fly, making it 4-0.
"It's not like it was the first time that we'd seen him. We see him in spring training. You see him in the All-Star Game. You see him in the World Series. You see him on TV all the time," said Surhoff, who gave the Orioles their first interleague hit in the second inning. "You're going up there with an idea of what he's going to try and do. You just can't try to overpower him."
Said Maddux, who walked none against four strikeouts: "You have to give them credit for putting it in play. You put the ball in play, good things can happen."