For all who unfairly compare the Orioles' frustrating season to death and taxes, last night reminded them of one important difference: If it were tax time, the Orioles could file for an extension.
Last night's 1-0 win over the Texas Rangers ran the Orioles' win streak to six, subtracted another game from their deficit with the collapsing Boston Red Sox and teased them with hope that is actually a prayer.
Before an announced crowd of 41,032, three pitchers combined for a five-hit shutout before a Camden Yards audience whipped into a frenzy both by Eric Davis' heroics and the appearance of a new, flabby cult hero atop the visitors' dugout. Never mind that it's probably over when the fat man dances, the Orioles now appear willing to squeeze every ounce of life from a once-tired season.
The Orioles won because they reached Rangers reliever Xavier Hernandez (6-6) on pinch hitter Davis' one-out, eighth-inning sacrifice fly to score B. J. Surhoff. Alan Mills (3-4) and Armando Benitez followed starter Juan Guzman's seven strong innings with stifling relief. The Orioles stranded 11 runners and hit into two double plays, seemingly bent on self-destruction on a night when they pulled themselves within 6 1/2 games of the wild-card leading Red Sox. Instead, their 10th shutout saved them.
"There's still a chance," said/wished catcher Lenny Webster, whose one-out single off Hernandez pushed Eugene Kingsale to third. "Right now we're going out and trying to have fun and trying to do the little things it takes to win. We still have hope.
"We have six games left with Boston. We're staying close to them and trying to do the best we can to keep winning."
Last night the Orioles won despite struggling to do the little things. They never produced a hit with men in scoring position, couldn't bunt, stranded 11 runners and hit into two double plays. But the combination of Guzman, Mills and Benitez overcame it all.
"I guess I'm kind of sick," saidmanager Ray Miller. "I kind of like these kinds of games."
Why be sick? The Orioles have won eight of 10 and can complete their second sweep of an AL West contender with another win tonight.
"We're only 6 1/2 games back right now," said Davis, who has eight RBIs in 15 career at-bats vs. Hernandez. "All we have to do is keep playing and hopefully things will happen. This team is not going to quit and we're not going to roll over. We do need a little help. But stranger things have happened."
With 13 games remaining this season proves Davis' point. The Orioles have suffered three losing streaks of at least eight games and strung together winning runs of nine and six games.
After dominating all lightweights in 1997, they will finish the season a combined 15-27 against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, Florida Marlins and Montreal Expos. Simply playing .500 against the aforementioned fivesome would have put the Orioles within a half-game of the staggering Red Sox.
Guzman gave his fourth consecutive quality start at Camden Yards. Mills won for the second time in a week. Benitez continued his recent surge by striking out the side in the ninth for his 21st save.
Miller challenged Benitez with his role following a grotesque blown save in Seattle earlier this month. Benitez has responded by striking out all nine batters he has faced since. For the moment, his future here appears off death row.
"He's had some troubles this year. He's had some maturing to go through. He showed me something tonight," Miller said. "There is no so-so [closer]. You're either great or you're bad. We had a little meeting of the minds in Seattle, and he's pitched well since. The one thing with Armando, he doesn't see everything as clearly as all of us. But he is man enough to come to you, man enough to take what you have to say and I appreciate that."
Like much else, Benitez may be showing too little too late. The Orioles lifted themselves to 39-22 since the All-Star break but can't shake the hangover of their 50-loss first half.
Last night's starter may prove to be next year's tonic. Guzman is 4-2 since his July 31 acquisition from the Toronto Blue Jays. The Orioles have scored just 42 runs in his nine starts.
Guzman's philosophy: Why ask why?
"Basically, I've been going through this the whole year. I haven't gotten that many runs, but I've learned how to focus and just go out and pitch my game. If I get a lot of runs, fine. And if I don't, I'll still pitch a good game. I'll just go out and do my job."
Allowing four base runners into scoring position, Guzman permitted only one to reach third base. Though deprived of a deserved decision, Guzman's six hardscrabble innings pushed his season total to 200 1/3 , automatically vesting his option for next season.
He again proved himself comfortable in his claustrophobic new home. In four starts at Camden Yards, he is 1-1 with a 2.05 ERA.
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Site: Camden Yards
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Rangers' Esteban Loaiza (3-4, 5.00) vs. O's Sidney Ponson (7-8, 5.40)
Tickets: 6,700 remain
Pub Date: 9/15/98