CLEVELAND -- They packed their bags on Aug. 6 privately convinced the upcoming 10 days would reveal whether their playoff hopes were well-founded or half-baked. Three cities later the Orioles returned home last night seven wins richer and seven games behind Boston for the AL wild-card berth.
Nine outs away from pulling within six games of the Red Sox, the Orioles were victimized by overextended starting pitching and an offense that stopped after four innings, leaving the Cleveland Indians to claim a face-saving 5-3 decision.
While enough to take the edge off a 7-3 road trip, the loss did not cheapen a run that has taken the Orioles to 27-8 since the All-Star break. A win would have given the Orioles their first four-game sweep in Cleveland since 1971. The loss sent them home contemplating a schedule that includes 23 of its final 39 games at Camden Yards as well as last night's missed opportunity.
A four-game win streak wasn't the only casualty. Right fielder Eric Davis' 30-game hitting streak perished in an 0-for-3 struggle against Indians starter Jaret Wright and side-arming reliever Steve Reed. Davis struck out swinging three times, walked once and had to settle for one of the game's 36 longest streaks ever. Davis stood patiently on deck when Rafael Palmeiro flied out to the left-field warning track with the bases loaded to end the game. Manager Ray Miller hugged him as he descended into the dugout, reminding him of what he had accomplished.
While the night represented a loss, the last 10 days kept the Orioles hopes flickering.
The 65-58 Orioles took series from Minnesota, Tampa Bay and the defending American League champions. They celebrated a historical event Friday night when catcher Chris Hoiles became only the ninth player in major-league history to hit a pair of grand slams in the same game. Scott Erickson gave them a five-hit shutout last Wednesday. A six-man bullpen effort allowed them to rally from a 4-0 deficit on Thursday. The Orioles did what good teams do. They drew on different corners of their clubhouse almost every night to find ways to win.
Last night before 43,065 at Jacobs Field and a national television audience, Orioles fifth starter Scott Kamieniecki cradled the ball in search of his first win since April 18. He was denied after shepherding a 3-2 lead through six innings because he couldn't help walking Travis Fryman and David Justice to lead off the seventh.
Kamieniecki (2-5) turned over the mess to Pete Smith and watched the game disintegrate.
Smith entered with 11 straight scoreless appearances and a 1.08 ERA out of the bullpen, but he could not put down the Indians rally. A botched bunt by first baseman Richie Sexson brought up catcher Sandy Alomar, who doubled into the left-field corner to ,, score Justice with the tying run and left the go-ahead run at third.
Needing a ground ball, Smith surrendered a deep fly ball to second baseman David Bell that scored Sexson for a 4-3 lead.
Miller then summoned left-hander Jesse Orosco to take out center fielder Kenny Lofton. Orosco's magic against left-handed hitters evaporated, however, when Lofton grounded a single through the middle, scoring Alomar to make it a 5-3 game.
The lightning reversal marked the eighth time the Orioles have lost when leading after seven innings and ended a four-game winning streak. It also dented a remarkable game by DH Harold Baines against Wright.
Baines, who three days before became the all-time RBI leader among designated hitters, doubled and scored on Surhoff's sacrifice fly in the second inning to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead.
Fryman reached Kamieniecki for his 23rd home run in the bottom of the inning, leaving Baines to return in the fourth to provide another lead.
Davis walked with one out before Baines hammered an 0-2 pitch to center field for his seventh home run and second of the trip. Baines has 43 RBIs in his last 56 games.
The Orioles didn't die with the Indians' seventh-inning comeback. Paul Assenmacher's leadoff walk of Brady Anderson was followed by Palmeiro's looped single. The inning offered Davis one last chance to become the first player since Benito Santiago in 1987 to hit in 31 straight games but Reed proved too tough.
The sidearmer got ahead of Davis 0-2, missed with a slider away, then pounded him with a fastball that tailed over the plate's inner half. For the first time since July 11 Davis walked away hitless.
Indians manager Mike Hargrove continued to mix-and-match. He imported left-hander Tom Martin to force Miller to replace Baines with pinch hitter Chris Hoiles. Hoiles popped out on the first pitch. Mike Jackson then came on to face Cal Ripken, who had enjoyed 6-for-18 career success against the Indians closer, including three home runs. Ripken narrowly missed a fourth homer when he turned on a fastball that hooked inches wide of the left-field foul pole.
Jackson didn't repeat the mistake, shattering Ripken's bat for an inning-ending groundout.
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 7: 35
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Twins' LaTroy Hawkins (7-11, 5.40) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (12-9, 3.97)
Tickets: 2,900 remain
Road to victory
Despite last night's loss, the Orioles' three-city road trip was a success in many ways. A look:
Record: 7-3 (2-1 in Minnesota, 2-1 in Tampa Bay, 3-1 in Cleveland)
Race: Gained 2 games. Started 9 back; 7 after last night.
Runs driven in: 70 (7.0 per game)
Runs allowed: 40 (4.0 per game)
Starting pitching: 60 2/3 IP, 4.45 ERA
Relief pitching: 31 1/3 IP, 2.30 ERA
Extra-base hits: 39
Anderson: .422 (19-45), 9 RBIs, 4 2B, 5 HRs
Hoiles: .400 (6-15), 11 RBIs, 2 HRs, 3 BB
Davis: .378 (14-37), 2 RBIs, 2 2B
Baines: .360 (9-25), 9 RBIs, 3 2Bs, 3 HRs
Palmeiro: .289 (13-45), 10 RBIs, 3 2B, 3 HRs
Pub Date: 8/17/98