O's within 1 of title after 3-2 victory Rodriguez, Rhodes, Benitez, Myers combine for win over Clemens

Yankees fall 4 back

Alomar's game-winner comes after knockdown

September 24, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- In desperate need of a win, the Orioles BTC rediscovered some magic last night. It rode into SkyDome on the rookie right arm of Nerio Rodriguez, took a ride on Roberto Alomar's stare-down of Roger Clemens and reached the late innings because of Arthur Rhodes' pitching through pain.

The result was as uplifting as it was unexpected: a 3-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays that reduced the Orioles' magic number for clinching the American League East to one. The New York Yankees helped out by blowing a 9-2 lead against the Cleveland Indians. The Orioles won because they rediscovered their early-season formula of scoring early, playing solid defense and flexing a stout bullpen.

Rodriguez (2-1) earned a decision over a legend. Rhodes, at times grabbing his sore right side, won out for 1 2/3 innings before Armando Benitez and Randy Myers pitched the eighth and ninth inings. Myers gained his 44th save in 45 chances.

Cal Ripken dwarfed a disappointing offensive game with two strong late-inning plays. He went behind the mound for the eighth inning's second out and dived to his left to rob Joe Carter for the first out of the ninth inning.

As for offense, Alomar accounted for the Orioles' decisive third run one pitch after suffering a second-inning knockdown from Clemens. His double to right field gave Rodriguez enough cushion to survive a dangerous sixth inning.

With another win tonight, the Orioles can secure their first division title since 1983. Given last night, it now must seem preordained.

The American League's presumptive Cy Young Award winner, Clemens (21-7) was pushing for the Blue Jays' single-season win record and a sub-2.00 ERA. He was the AL pitcher of the month for August, had struck out 29 in his last three starts and had allowed one home run in his last 70 1/3 innings pitched. But no one told Rodriguez.

Making only his third major-league start, Rodriguez confirmed a first impression as a poker-faced prodigy.

Only two years since being converted from catching at Single-A, Rodriguez attacked a major-league lineup.

Through five innings, he allowed only a second-inning double to Carlos Delgado and a walk to Juan Samuel among just 61 pitches.

His degree of difficulty was significant. On Saturday against the Detroit Tigers, he had served in emergency relief of Rick Krivda. He went 3 1/3 innings on 42 pitches, allowing only one run on four hits to gain his first major-league win. On Sept. 16, Rodriguez threw 106 pitches in a quality start against the Cleveland Indians, surrendering seven hits in an eye-opening 6 2/3 -inning loss.

Rodriguez never backed down last night. With runners at first and second in the second inning, he got Shawn Green to foul out to third base, then ended the inning with Charlie O'Brien's fly ball to center.

Protecting a 3-0 lead, Rodriguez finally wilted in the sixth. His fade began with a leadoff walk to No. 9 hitter Tomas Perez. Center fielder Shannon Stewart followed with a triple into the left-center field gap for the Blue Jays' second hit and first run.

Alex Gonzalez followed with a drive to left field that scored Stewart for a 3-2 game. At that point, Johnson had seen enough. He pulled Rodriguez for Rhodes and prayed that a recently skittish bullpen would hold.

Meanwhile, the Orioles stood up to Clemens, who had shut them out for 14 1/3 innings in two starts this season. The result was sometimes nasty.

Four of the first five hitters to face Clemens hit safely, giving the Orioles a 2-0 lead before their second out. Brady Anderson and Alomar led off with back-to-back singles and advanced a base on Rafael Palmeiro's right-side grounder. Harold Baines drove in the first run with a single and B.J. Surhoff followed with another for his 10th RBI in 17 games.

Three times Clemens came inside against Alomar after the first-inning breakout, brushing him back once and twice knocking him down. The third instance came on a 1-1 pitch in the seventh inning, causing Johnson to storm from the first-base dugout to confront plate umpire Chuck Meriwether, who chose not to warn Clemens. Johnson took his third ejection of the season for his objection.

Alomar also passed a test in the second inning. He was brushed back on the first pitch then knocked down by a running fastball that started at his right ear flap. With Mike Bordick on first base with one out, Alomar answered by turning on Clemens for a one-hop double to the right-field wall, scoring Bordick for a 3-0 lead.

The extra-base hit would become huge. Clemens found himself after Alomar's double, retiring 15 straight with only two balls leaving the infield.

The Orioles finally threatened again in the eighth but failed to deliver a knockout blow. Palmeiro doubled two feet from the top of the right-field wall. Baines followed with a walk. When Clemens fell behind B.J. Surhoff 2-0, pitching coach Mel Queen came to the mound. Clemens talked him back to the dugout, then struck out Surhoff. Ripken followed with his third strikeout of the night, a called pitch at the knees. Geronimo Berroa completed the fadeout with a half-swing third strike, giving Clemens his 11th strikeout on his 139th pitch.

Pub Date: 9/24/97

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