Nothing could have been more appropriate than a local bank announcing it will donate $1,000 to Shock Trauma for every Orioles save. Last night before 43,039 at Camden Yards, Armando Benitez provided plenty of each -- shock and trauma but no cash -- in a 4-3 escape against the Chicago White Sox
that bordered on disastrous but compromised for the simply bizarre.
The Orioles began the ninth inning with a two-run lead and their de facto closer Benitez pitching.
They left 35 pitches or what seemed like an eternity later, with the bases loaded and the team's eldest player, Jesse Orosco, having rescued its youngest member for the second time in 10 days. Manager Ray Miller could exhale. The Orioles were 10-2 overall, 4-0 in one-run games, 7-0 when scoring three runs or more.
"We thought Armando would probably be the closer, but Ray told us to be ready in any situation. That's what I did in spring training, prepare myself to pitch in that situation," Orosco said.
Joe Carter and Chris Hoiles supplied bases-empty home runs to mix with RBI singles from Rafael Palmeiro and B.J. Surhoff. Yet none of it nearly mattered.
Until two weeks ago even Orosco, who will be 41 on Tuesday, thought he had grown too old for this stuff. Summoned April 5 to bail out Benitez against the Detroit Tigers, Orosco at first believed the call for him to warm nothing more than a bluff.
In the tedious ninth inning last night, Miller watched the White Sox score a run on three walks by Benitez and a two-out wild-pitch strikeout by Orosco that allowed the Sox to score their third run.
Pitching for the first time since in nine days, the left-hander inherited Benitez's bases-loaded mess with one out. On a full count, he got Sox shortstop Ray Durham with a pop-out to center field. Against pinch hitter Jeff Abbott, he produced a would-be game-ending strikeout but crossed up his catcher, Chris Hoiles, who expected a fastball but whiffed on a slider instead. Strike three ricocheted off plate umpire Mark Johnson. Frank Thomas scored and Abbott reached, prolonging the inning for switch-hitter Ruben Sierra.
"We had gotten it every time except for that one pitch," Hoiles said. "I had no chance."
Orosco ended the game with his second strikeout, this one on a pitch Hoiles anticipated.
The rest was damage control. For the second time in six save opportunities, Benitez did not finish.
"Armando had good arm strength and he didn't back off," assessed Miller. "I didn't mind going to get him. That's one reason I didn't name anyone a closer. I'm not going to call anybody a closer, because if you fail then you say your closer failed, and I don't think he failed. I think it's a learning process. He gave everything he had in that situation."
Benitez left the shower with a light step and singing, "Hallelujah." Rather than sulk, Benitez addressed questions with a broader perspective noticeably missing last season when he served mostly as Randy Myers' doorman.
"There have been times I've saved Jesse. Now he comes in and saves me," Benitez said. "No problem. I like it."
Orosco saved a well-deserved win for starter Jimmy Key (2-0), who gained only his second win at Camden Yards since last May 7. Key struck out the side the first two innings, allowed only three hits and one run over seven innings and exhibited the best changeup of his two-year tenure with the Orioles.
"Jesse's got two [saves] now. It's a sign of a good deep bullpen," Key said. "We're not a one-man bullpen. That's not a slap at Armando. It's just that if one guy isn't doing it, another guy can."
The Orioles, meanwhile, continue to win with arms over bats. As softly as the Orioles have hit so far, the White Sox have gone even more limp, scoring only 38 runs in 11 games. Albert Belle and Frank Thomas have one home run in 75 combined at-bats. Key gave them no hope of a turnaround.
Thomas' first-inning single was all that interrupted Key's unprecedented run of six strikeouts to begin the game. Belle went 0-for-4 with a fourth-inning double play.
The Orioles managed just one hit through five innings off White Sox left-hander Scott Eyre (0-2), but it was enough to give Key to a 1-0 lead. Ending a longball wait of 28 at-bats, designated hitter Joe Carter yanked his first home run as an Oriole and No. 379 of his career into the left-field bleachers.
Key held the lead for three innings but lost it in the sixth inning when catcher Charlie O'Brien jumped a 3-1 pitch for his first home run, also the first allowed by Key in 17 1/3 innings.
The Orioles finally reached Eyre again in the sixth inning when Eric Davis highlighted his first start since Thursday with a one-out double into the left-center-field gap and scored on Rafael Palmeiro's single to right field. Any hope of making a play on Davis vanished when Magglio Ordonez boxed the ball.