No turning back for O's, 11-5 Hoiles slams Blue Jays to cap home sweep, further last-ditch run

'Believe we've got a chance'

AL West powers to test O's perfect 2nd half

July 15, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The impossible continues to get a little more interesting for the Orioles with each passing game. A club that once couldn't stop running in place now marches on, destination unknown.

The Orioles sent nine batters to the plate in the first inning last night, punctuating the assault with a grand slam by Chris Hoiles. By the second inning, they had seven runs in the bank, Mike Mussina on the mound and nothing to detain them from an 11-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays before 44,122 at Camden Yards.

Combined with Boston's 5-4 loss to Tampa Bay earlier in the day, the win left the Orioles 10 1/2 games behind in the wild-card hunt. They also closed to within three games of the Blue Jays for third place in the AL East.

By sweeping Boston and Toronto in six games since the All-Star break, the Orioles (44-50) enjoyed their first undefeated homestand of this length since June 1993. To keep the good times rolling, they'll have to avoid smacking the wall in Texas and Anaheim, their next two stops before returning to Camden Yards.

It'll be a tall order, with both clubs vying for first place in the AL West and the heat in Arlington expected to turn the ballpark into a pizza oven, but the Orioles are taking challenges as they come.

A victory over the Rangers tonight would equal the club's longest winning streak this season, which came after Opening Day. It also would put a dent in another team's advantage over the Orioles in the wild card.

"I think today's the first time all year I looked up at the board in the first inning and saw that Boston already lost, and I thought, 'Boy, wouldn't that be nice,' " manager Ray Miller said. "Hopefully we can get to Texas safely and play a couple good games there and you never know what can happen. A few days can change a lot of things around."

"We can't worry about anybody else but ourselves," said left fielder B. J. Surhoff, who lifted his average above the .300 mark. "You can't scoreboard watch. There's too many teams ahead of us. We're not even .500 yet."

Surhoff, Rafael Palmeiro and Joe Carter homered in the seventh inning off Toronto reliever Robert Person. It was Palmeiro's 27th this season. Carter's homer was his 11th, all coming with the bases empty. Surhoff's blast completed a 4-for-4 night that gave him 10 hits in his last 11 at-bats.

"He had a great day, a great series and a great week," Miller said of Surhoff, who has 10 hits in his last 11 at-bats.

This was the second time in three games the Orioles had scored 11 runs. It also was the latest thrill to be injected into a previously dormant season.

"I don't know if it's been one individual thing. It's a lot of little ones," said assistant general manager Kevin Malone, assessing the club's post-break surge. "We seem to be more aggressive on the bases and the pitching's been better. It's just a lot of little things going our way.

"We didn't get any breaks in the first half, either. Maybe the tide has turned."

There was another noticeable shift in the first inning.

Roberto Alomar led off with an infield hit and took second on a throwing error by second baseman Tony Fernandez. Brady Anderson popped to third on a 3-0 pitch and Palmeiro struck out, but Eric Davis lined an RBI single to right.

Surhoff singled up the middle and Cal Ripken walked to load the bases. Toronto right-hander Woody Williams (8-4) got two quick strikes on Carter, ran the count full and missed with a fastball to force in Davis for a 2-0 lead.

Williams threw two balls to Hoiles, then a strike. On the next pitch, he threw his head back to watch Hoiles' sixth career grand slam sail over the center-field fence. It was the fourth one hit by the Orioles this season.

"It was a fastball, right on a tee, right where I practice," said Hoiles, who has three homers in his last eight starts.

Having seen his last three quality starts go unrewarded, Mussina (7-5) won last night while allowing his most runs since a June 17 loss to the New York Yankees and not gaining command of his pitches until the sixth. It was his third complete game, and first victory in three weeks. He had been 1-1 in his last four outings despite a 2.67 ERA.

Three of the Blue Jays' runs came in the fifth inning, one on a bloop double by Alex Gonzalez that got past Carter in right field. An RBI grounder by Shawn Green and sacrifice fly by Mike Stanley to deep center reduced the lead to 7-4.

Mussina got two outs in the second inning, then hit Ed Sprague and surrendered a run-scoring double to Darrin Fletcher. Anderson lunged for the ball as it sliced toward right field but was unable to make the catch.

Alomar made certain the scoring would end there, ranging toward the middle and diving to snag a liner by Felipe Crespo. He then singled and stole second leading off the bottom of the inning, and came around when Anderson doubled high off the scoreboard in right for a 7-1 lead.

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