Webster defines O's latest win 2-run homer in 9th tops 4-hit, 6-RBI night, caps sweep of A's, 9-7

.500 for 1st time since May

Down 7-5 in 8th, O's rally as run hits 13-1

July 24, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Depending on the perspective, Lenny Webster is either a backup catcher, an adventure hero, a mistake hitter or baseball's best bargain. Last night, it didn't matter if he was all in one or one for all. It was again his turn to stir a make-believe month.

Webster's two-run homer in the ninth inning not only topped the most productive game of his nine-year major-league career, but also lifted the Orioles to a 9-7 win and three-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics last night at Camden Yards. At .500 (51-51) for the first time since May 15, the Orioles have won 13 of 14 since the All-Star break and remain eight games behind the American League's wild-card leader, the Boston Red Sox.

The Orioles twice led by three runs. Then they trailed by two runs. Webster ended the game of whiplash by crushing the second pitch he saw from Mike Fetters (1-5) for his eighth home run of the season, his fifth and sixth RBIs of the game and career-high fourth hit of the night.

Webster's home run off Fetters came barely more than 24 hours after Rafael Palmeiro homered to end Wednesday night's win.

The wild finish didn't end with the game. Shortly after returning to the clubhouse, the Orioles learned that right fielder Joe Carter had been traded to the San Francisco Giants for minor-league pitcher Darin Blood. Carter contributed an RBI and scored the winning run on Webster's home run.

Webster, a $665,000 player on a $69 million payroll, has batted .400 with three home runs and 15 RBIs in his past 21 games. Last night's six RBIs -- Webster also drove in four of the five runs in the second inning and third inning -- were also a career high. Last year, it nearly took him until June to get seven RBIs. Now, with more than two months left in the season, Webster has a career-high eight home runs.

"I'm not a home run hitter, but I take advantage of mistakes. I went down and got one," said Webster.

He lifted an entire clubhouse. The Orioles could have wilted. Scoreboard watching, they saw the Red Sox rally for an extra-inning win against the Toronto Blue Jays. Then they saw struggling starting pitcher Doug Drabek come back from a 1-hour, 7-minute rain delay to fumble a pair of three-run leads.

"Lenny had a big day, not only late in the game but early in the game. The key thing about today is that we gave up runs and kept battling. In all the innings that we left men on, everything was set up by a key walk. That's the way you win ballgames -- trusting the man behind you, knowing he'll do it," manager Ray Miller said.

The turnaround also meant a second straight win for Armando Benitez (4-2), who pitched a scoreless ninth inning.

Down 7-5 after a painful-to-watch tag team by "the Dougs" -- Miller's term for starter Drabek and reliever Doug Johns -- the Orioles tied the game with a two-run eighth constructed around two walks, two singles and a pivotal Bill Buckner impersonation by first baseman and former Oriole Jack Voigt. The Orioles even overcame a double-play grounder by Palmeiro with the bases loaded.

Following Palmeiro's dagger to the inning, Taylor intentionally walked B. J. Surhoff to reload the bases for right-handed designated hitter Eric Davis. Davis drilled a single to center to tie the game.

"After the first half we've had, things are starting to come around for us and we're starting to play pretty good baseball at home. I think to be a contender, you have to play well at home," Webster said.

"Our two catchers are like Batman and Robin the last couple of weeks. If one doesn't do it, the other one does. They're both very calm under pressure and I think that's what allows them to come through offensively," said Miller.

Holy second-half surges.

Webster and Chris Hoiles are a combined 25-for-49 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs since the All-Star break.

The Orioles overcame another traumatic start by Drabek, who retired six consecutive hitters before the delay but faltered afterward.

"I think the delay obviously took a toll on him," Miller said. "I might have gotten him a little quicker but I used a lot of relievers yesterday. I tried to get as much out of him as I could. Doug's a perennial second-half pitcher and he's also won a Cy Young. I haven't forgotten that. He'll figure out a way."

At some point the Orioles know they must address Drabek's diminishing returns. Advertised as a second-half pitcher, Drabek has yet to reverse a draining first-half trend of abbreviated starts and brutal beatings. Last night marked the fifth time Drabek has received a no-decision or a loss when the Orioles score at least five runs. Four times it has happened when the Orioles have scored at least eight runs.

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