CLEVELAND -- The Orioles barely survived one of closer Armando Benitez's scariest rides of the season yesterday to topple the Cleveland Indians, 9-8, in 10 innings at Jacobs Field. What came within 90 feet of a traumatic ninth-inning loss instead ended well as a fourth consecutive win that brought the Orioles within seven games of Boston in the wild-card race. Near tears following his ninth-inning collapse, Benitez emerged with the win.
An 8-6 ninth-inning lead slipped through Benitez's fingers when he issued three walks and a base hit before getting his first out to end the inning. Center fielder Brady Anderson rescued the game by hammering Doug Jones' first pitch of the 10th inning for a home run. Benitez then managed three outs to end the 4: 04 marathon that guaranteed the Orioles their 10th series win in the 12 played since the All-Star break.
Before a Jacobs Field crowd of 43,238, Benitez needed to get only one out to claim his 18th save. Instead, he provided another hell-raising, glove-flipping performance punctuated by a clubhouse outburst and two stern on-field lectures from his manager.
"I'm not perfect," a contrite Benitez said afterward. "I walked a couple guys. I didn't get a couple calls. I didn't do the job."
Catcher Lenny Webster and third baseman Cal Ripken tried unsuccessfully to calm the reliever during the ninth. With Chris Hoiles out of the game, Webster himself was nearly ejected for arguing the inning's most pivotal pitch.
"He had some problems out there, but we got through it," Webster said. "We won the game and that's what matters."
Eight games over .500 for the only time since a 10-2 start, the Orioles have battered the Indians for 31 runs, 47 hits, 70 total bases and a .356 average the last three games. They have produced 63 base runners while punishing starting pitchers Dwight Gooden, Charles Nagy and Dave Burba for 29 hits in 13 1/3 innings. Since trailing 4-0 in the opener, the Orioles have outscored the Indians 31-11.
Shortstop Mike Bordick began a three-hit game with a second-inning single to score B. J. Surhoff for the first run. That the Orioles left five runners in the first two innings seemed irrelevant when they attacked Burba for four more runs in the third inning. Five consecutive hits -- including a bunt single by Cal Ripken to load the bases -- were capped by Surhoff's two-run double and a two-run single by catcher Chris Hoiles, who has 10 RBIs the last two games.
The Orioles blew out to a 7-1 lead in the fourth after the first three hitters reached base. Having already extended his hitting streak to 30 games, Eric Davis' third of four hits deflected off third baseman Travis Fryman's glove for one run and Surhoff's sacrifice fly accounted for another.
And it almost didn't matter.
Orioles starter Juan Guzman faltered in the sixth. He got only one out before rookie first baseman Richie Sexson sliced a bases-loaded triple into the right-field corner to make the score 7-5. Miller brought in Pete Smith, who surrendered an RBI single to Sandy Alomar, creating a one-run game.
A bases-loaded walk to Rafael Palmeiro pushed the Orioles to an 8-6 lead entering the ninth.
Benitez (5-3) replaced Jesse Orosco after the left-hander struck out pinch hitter Jeff Manto for the inning's second out. Indians manager Mike Hargrove forced Miller's hand by offering right-handed pinch hitter Cecil Fielder against Orosco.
Miller answered with Benitez, prompting Hargrove to predictably counter with left-handed bat David Justice.
"I don't like either matchup," Miller admitted. "This time last year there's no way I would have brought Justice up. But he's been struggling a little bit. It was a tough call."
Benitez walked Justice on a full count pitch close enough for the pitcher to stare through plate umpire Ted Barrett. Benitez didn't get another call the rest of the inning.
"There's a fine line," said Miller, who tried to calm his seething pitcher. "Armando walks the first guy and now all he has to do is throw one more bad pitch to lose. He can't back off. The first time that I went out there he was striding eight feet long and the ball was up. Stoppers like him are like NASCAR guys. They don't back off. It's pedal to the metal."
Nothing simple, something gained.
The motto should be plastered above Benitez's locker. The Orioles' closer-in-progress has made a reputation from nettlesome on-field mannerisms, whether it be his sneering or the casual ball tosses that infuriate umpires.
"It was not his fault," Benitez said of the ninth-inning situation. "It was my fault."
Manny Ramirez grounded a single through the right side to drive in one run and push the tying run to third base. Benitez then walked Fryman on four pitches to load the bases, then went to a 3-1 count on Mark Whiten. When the next pitch, a waist-high fastball that appeared to catch much of the outside corner, was called a ball, forcing home the tying run, Benitez flipped his glove while Webster nearly turned on Barrett.