O's storm back in 9th for 4th in row, 3-2 Beating odds, they do number on Angels, retain even longer wild-card shot

September 13, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

As long as the numbers say the Orioles aren't out of playoff contention, Ray Miller won't listen to anything else, including reason. It's his job to push for the improbable, to keep stoking the fire even as the flames are reduced to a mere flicker.

For eight innings yesterday, the embers were barely warm to the touch. Who could have imagined that the Anaheim Angels would wind up getting burned?

Mike Bordick hit a two-run homer off closer Troy Percival in the ninth to tie the score, and Eric Davis singled in Brady Anderson to complete the rally and give the Orioles a 3-2 victory before an announced crowd of 48,038 at Camden Yards that appeared much smaller but sounded twice as loud as the comeback took shape.

Percival was handed a 2-0 lead to begin the ninth, and history was on his side. The Orioles were 1-68 when trailing after eight innings and the first-place Angels were 72-1 when leading after eight. But the Angels closer left five batters later with his fifth blown save chance. He has allowed eight runs in six innings against the Orioles (75-72), who have won four straight and are three above .500 for the first time since Aug. 29.

Rich Becker led off with a pinch single, and Bordick yanked the 11th pitch he saw from Percival off the foul pole in left. Bordick fouled off five pitches with the count full before connecting for his 12th homer.

"He probably walked me a couple times," Bordick said. "I just kept swinging. You battle in those situations and fortunately I got a good part of the bat on the ball. Luckily it stayed fair."

Bordick extended his arms as he reached first base, not sure whether he had homered. He took it as a good sign that the ball was bouncing across the outfield grass, rather than in the seats on the wrong side of the pole.

Tied, the Orioles didn't stop there. Brady Anderson blooped a single into left-center with one out, then stole second on a breaking ball in the dirt. Davis bounced a 2-1 fastball up the middle, and center fielder Jim Edmonds' throw to the plate arrived before Anderson, but catcher Phil Nevin failed to secure it before being barreled into by Anderson. The center fielder, slowed by a partially torn patella tendon in his right knee, dived back to the plate as umpire Rick Reed called him safe.

Asked if he was expecting a bigger collision, Anderson said, "I hit him as hard as I could, man. That's all I had."

Davis, who drove in five runs in Friday night's 8-3 victory, pounded his fist into his left palm as he walked toward the dugout and into a mob of jubilant teammates celebrating the Orioles' sixth sudden-death victory this season.

"That's what you're supposed to do," Miller said. "You're supposed to be able to steal a base once in a while and get a hit. That is legal."

"I let them get too comfortable and they were taking good swings against me," said Percival, who had been sidelined recently with a tired arm. "What can I say? They beat the [heck] out of me."

They barely laid a hand on knuckleballer Steve Sparks, who allowed only five hits -- including three to Roberto Alomar -- before leaving with two outs in the eighth. B. J. Surhoff flied to shallow left field against reliever Mike Holtz, setting up Percival's nTC grand fall the next inning.

Sparks issued six walks and threw only 79 of his 143 pitches for strikes, the plate dancing as much as his knuckler. All but one came with two outs, and none led to runs. The Orioles stranded 11, including five in scoring position.

"If we wouldn't have rallied, it would have looked like a lethargic performance because Sparks basically abused us all day long," Anderson said.

The Orioles' had problems that extended beyond Sparks. Both runs off Mike Mussina were unearned, and he left after eight innings with no walks permitted and no chance of being rewarded for the effort. Instead, Alan Mills (2-4) got the win by recording the last two outs in the ninth.

The Angels went ahead in the second inning when the ball slipped from Alomar's grasp as he reached into his glove on a force play at second, allowing Chris Pritchett to come around. And the lead grew to 2-0 in the fourth when Ripken couldn't grab a bouncer to his left from Gary DiSarcina that scored Norberto Martin.

Aided by two double plays, Mussina didn't face more than the minimum number of batters over his last four innings. "It could have been a lot worse. We could have been way out of the game," he said.

"It was real exciting and we're not even in the race."

The Orioles have 15 games left. They trail Boston by 8 1/2 for the wild card. Miller does the math and tries to remain positive.

"I'm always alive," he said, "until they tell me I'm gone."

Pub Date: 9/13/98

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