Bench has day, showing first string the way

October 02, 1997|By Ken Rosenthal

SEATTLE -- They won last night with the junior varsity. Today, they roll out the varsity and try to put the Seattle Mariners away.

Rafael Palmeiro, Roberto Alomar, B.J. Surhoff all figure to be in the lineup against left-hander Jamie Moyer.

The Orioles can't waste this chance.

The varsity needs to adopt the JV's patient, little-ball mentality and return home with a two-games-to-none lead in the Division Series.

A 9-3 blowout in Game 1. A trouncing of Randy Johnson.

Who could have imagined it? Only the Orioles, who always seem to reduce the Big Unit to Li'l Abner.

It happened again last night, and there was no rain delay, no blackout, no excuse for the 6-foot-10 left-hander, not against Jerome Walton, Jeff Reboulet and Co.

A loss could have raised unpleasant questions about Palmeiro's apparent willingness to sit against Johnson ("I didn't demand to play. I wanted to play," Palmeiro said).

It also could have caused an uproar over Davey Johnson's decision to play Walton in the same position once occupied by Boog Powell and Eddie Murray.

But who can argue now?

"It just shows how smart our manager is -- he put the winning lineup in again," assistant general manager Kevin Malone crowed. "He has a knack of doing that -- that's the 99th time [this season]."

Johnson left 7,671 career hits on the bench, but he was wearing a huge grin as he shook hands with Malone, GM Pat Gillick and other team officials entering the clubhouse.

The Orioles have now won all four games started by Johnson against them this season, and not once did they start the three Bench-keteers.

"I'll just sleep better tonight, that's all," Johnson said. "A lot of times I take a gamble that I think is a calculated gamble. I've done that my whole career. I feel I had to put my neck on the chopping block to gain."

And so he did.

Walton handled six chances flawlessly at first base. Reboulet laid down a huge two-strike sacrifice. And the 8-9 hitters, Jeffrey Hammonds and Mike Bordick, reached all four times they faced Johnson, scoring the first three runs.

The Orioles knocked out Johnson by taking a 5-1 lead after five innings. Palmeiro, Alomar and Surhoff then entered for garbage time, helping produce a four-run sixth that turned the game into a rout.

By the seventh, Johnson could have taken out Cal Ripken, not that we would ever suggest such a thing.

For their next trick, the Orioles will bring back Glenn Davis, Pete Stanicek and Wade Rowdon to face Johnson -- that is, if they even get another crack at the Unit, who looks as petrified as a redwood whenever birds are in the vicinity.

Seriously, the Mariners are now in a must-win situation. Indeed, many believe they were in a must-win situation last night.

A Seattle columnist wrote yesterday: "Not to put too fine a point on it, but if the Mariners don't win [Game 1], it's over."

Well, it's not over.

But if the Orioles win today, they'll need to drop three straight at Camden Yards to blow the series.

Even if they lose, they'll need to win only two of three to advance, meaning they won't need to beat Johnson, not that it's ever such a problem.

So now it's Scott Erickson's turn.

Erickson, who was 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in three starts against the Mariners this season. Erickson, who is winless in six career post-season starts.

Mussina exorcised his big-game demons last night, allowing only five base runners in seven innings, striking out nine and walking none.

With all the pressure now on the Mariners, Erickson needs to recapture his regular-season magic, and crush the Mariners' spirit but good.

The bigger question might be how the hitters handle Moyer, who is 4-0 against them the past two seasons and 30-8 overall since leaving Baltimore.

But Malone said he thought the Orioles started to solve Moyer the last time they faced him. Even then, Moyer allowed only six hits in six innings. The Orioles rallied against the Seattle bullpen for a 4-3 victory in 11 innings.

An early lead tonight would be helpful, perhaps even critical. The raucous Kingdome fell almost silent after Eric Davis' two-run single made it 4-1 in the fifth. As Surhoff put it: "It was nice to get the crowd out of the game."

Like many left-handed, off-speed pitchers, Moyer is more effective against right-handed hitters than he is again left-handers. Left-handers batted .322 against him this season, right-handers only .234.

It's odd that a pitcher who is not overpowering could dominate such a quality lineup, but it's equally odd that a pitcher who throws harder than anyone on the planet always loses to that same team.

Johnson was 9-1 at the Kingdome during the regular season, and it took a 538-foot home run by Mark McGwire to beat him in a game in which he still struck out 19 Oakland Athletics.

The Orioles took a more methodical approach last night, using a pair of walks, a stolen base and an error to start their four-run rally in the fifth.

The Mariners took out Johnson. The Orioles took out their JV.

Now, it's the varsity's turn.

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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