CLEVELAND -- He was an afterthought in spring training, a spare part on Opening Day and never more than filler in a starting rotation flushed with aces.
Not exactly the guy the Orioles would pick to start a playoff game that could end their season.
But they closed their eyes and handed the ball and their season over to Scott Kamieniecki last night in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Jacobs Field, and look what he gave them in return.
He gave them renewed life in a series that this city seemed to think was over.
He gave them a chance to come home and come back on the Indians at Camden Yards.
Making his first start in 19 days, he threw five scoreless innings and recorded the win in a 4-2 victory that dulled the Indians' momentum.
"I knew I'd get a stellar performance from him, and I did," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said.
It was Kamieniecki's first career playoff win after 11 years of pro baseball encompassing more than 1,500 innings in the minors and majors.
Call it a triumph of persistence for a pitcher who has had to force his way into management's plans for most of his career, as he did this year.
He needed help from Jimmy Key and Randy Myers out of the bullpen after elbow stiffness forced him out of the game after five innings of four-hit ball, but his performance changed the course of the series.
The Indians still need only one win in the last two games to advance to the World Series, but Mike Mussina gives the Orioles the advantage in Game 6 and they'll certainly take their chances with Scott Erickson pitching Game 7 at home.
The Indians' best chance was to go ahead and finish off the Orioles last night, while they still had the momentum and were feeling blessed by a magical force that kept dealing them bizarre victories.
An underdog is always advised to finish off an upset before the better team wakes up.
Just ask the St. Louis Cardinals, who built a 3-1 lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National Championship Series last year before losing their magic and getting pulverized in three straight games.
The Indians could have broken the Orioles with a fast start last night, but Kamieniecki didn't give them a chance to get anything going.
Actually, he gave them chances -- three in five innings -- then snuffed out those chances.
With runners on first and second and one out in the first, Kamieniecki cooly retired Jim Thome on a pop-up and David Justice on a ground ball to end the inning.
In the third, Roberts and Omar Vizquel singled to put runners on second and third with two out, but Kamieniecki again retired Thome on a soft liner.
The Indians advanced runners to second and third with two out yet again in the fourth, but Kamieniecki escaped when he grabbed Marquis Grissom's sharp grounder.
"The first inning was the key," Kamieniecki said. "If I can get out of that and establish a rhythm, it's important. They had some chances, but I made a couple of good pitches. When you're on the road and in an elimination game, you don't want to get behind. You want to take the crowd out of the game."
Kamieniecki retired the side in order in the fifth, striking out two, but Johnson yanked him when he complained of a tight elbow.
"He was really upset at my decision because he wanted to continue," Johnson said. "But I don't mess around with [tight] elbows. That can be career-threatening."
But Key pitched three scoreless innings and Myers survived a shaky ninth to finish the win, which was the culmination of an improbable tale that began nine months ago on Christmas Eve, of all days.
That was the day when Orioles GM Pat Gillick first phoned Kamieniecki, who had been set free by by the Yankees after spending most of 1996 struggling to rehabilitate his right elbow, from which bone chips had been removed after the previous season.
He had spent a decade with the Yankees' organization, rising steadily through the minors to become a spot starter in the majors, recording 36 wins from 1991-96.
He made five starts and recorded one win for the Yankees team that won the World Series a year ago, but he spent most of the year in the minors and the front office didn't give him a championship ring.
They told him this year that it was an oversight and then fitted him for a ring on one of the Orioles' trips to the Bronx, but he hasn't seen the ring yet.
In any case, Orioles scout Curt Motton saw him last year pitching in a winter league in Venezuela, where he was trying to regain his stuff after his injury.
He signed with the Orioles in January and came to spring training as the No. 8 starter behind Mussina, Erickson, Jimmy Key, Rocky Coppinger, Shawn Boskie, Jimmy Haynes and Rick Krivda.
Slowly but surely, he worked his way into the Orioles' plans and up the ladder of their rotation.
After making 30 starts and recording 10 wins, he made the second postseason start of his career last night.
The Orioles would have preferred Mussina, Erickson or one of their aces, but Kamieniecki wound up giving them a colossal gift.
He gave them hope.
Last night's win was only Scott Kamieniecki's second since Aug. 24, but he has a 3.45 ERA over that stretch. A look:
Date .. ..Opp .. ..Res .. ..IP .. ..H .. ..ER
8/29 .. ..NYM .. ...ND .. ...7 .. ..8 .. ...3
9/3 .. ...Fla .. ...ND .. ...5 .. ..8 .. ...4
9/9 .. ...Cle .. ...ND .. ...6 .. ..6 .. ...1
9/14 .. ..NY .. .. ..L .. ...5 .. ..5 .. ...3
9/19 .. ..Det .. ...ND .. ...6 1/3 . ..8 .. ...3
9/24 .. ..Tor .. ....W .. ...7 .. ..6 .. ...3
10/9 .. ..Cle .. ...ND .. ...3 .. ..0 .. ...0
10/13 .. .Cle .. ....W .. ...5 .. ..4 .. ...0
Tot. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..44 1/3 .. 45 .. ..17
* Relief in Gm. 2 of ALCS
Pub Date: 10/14/97