Red Sox close in O's close to end

Deficit 8 1/2 with 11 left after 4-3 loss to Boston

September 17, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

A game that at one time looked as though it would mean so much to the Orioles became just another pothole in the road to nowhere. And thanks to a steep drop in attendance, there wasn't much of a traffic jam on the way out.

Looking to tighten their grip on baseball's consolation prize, the Boston Red Sox used 14 hits, another strong effort by revitalized Bret Saberhagen and a deft escape by closer Tom Gordon to defeat the Orioles, 4-3, before an announced crowd of 42,676 at Camden Yards that couldn't hide large patches of empty seats in the upper deck.

Boston (85-65) needed the win to stay four games ahead of Toronto for the wild card. The Blue Jays kept pace by beating Detroit, and the Orioles (77-74) fell 8 1/2 behind with 11 remaining.

B. J. Surhoff drove in pinch runner Eugene Kingsale with one out in the ninth, and Lenny Wester singled to put Gordon on the brink of collapse. Instead, he nailed down his club-record 41st save and tied a major-league single-season record with his 38th in a row by blowing a third strike past Rich Becker and getting Roberto Alomar on a fly ball to center. Becker had been 6-for-15 against Gordon.

Cal Ripken had doubled with one out to begin the rally, moving him into a tie with Babe Ruth for 34th place on the all-time hits list with 2,873.

"You've got to get it done before that," said Orioles manager Ray Miller. "You can't win them all in the ninth."

The night also included another home run by shortstop Mike Bordick, his 13th, leading off the third inning. Bordick has homered in six of the past 22 games in which he has had an at-bat, padding his career-high total.

Webster drove in a run with a seventh-inning single that scored Harold Baines and removed Saberhagen from the game. Webster, making his third consecutive start, has six hits in his past 12 at-bats.

Scott Erickson (15-12) surrendered 12 hits, matching his career high. It was the eighth time this season he's reached double digits, but the first in three months.

He fell behind 2-0 in the second inning and never toed level ground.

Nomar Garciaparra, who was hitting .325 since moving into the cleanup spot in late July, led off with a single to left field. He took second on a bouncer by Mike Stanley, then took third on a single by Troy O'Leary.

Former Oriole Damon Buford followed with a chopper to first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who tried to cut down Garciaparra at home. Webster blocked him off the plate but couldn't handle the throw, giving Boston a 1-0 lead. Erickson then bounced a pitch in front of Webster, moving up the runners and setting up an RBI grounder by Jason Varitek.

Umpire Derryl Cousins first ruled Garciaparra out, then changed the call after seeing the ball roll away from Webster, even though replays showed the Boston shortstop missed the plate.

"He never touched it until he attempted to go back to it," Erickson said. "Obviously, if he knew he touched it, why would he go back? It looked like Lenny would have had him on the second attempt. If we get that out, they don't score that inning and it's a whole different ballgame."

The Orioles had an immediate chance to retaliate against Saberhagen (14-7), getting a two-out single by Ripken and a walk to Surhoff in the second. Webster drilled a shot up the middle, but rookie second baseman Donnie Sadler made a sliding, backhanded stop and got the out at first.

Saberhagen's 14 wins and 164 innings are his most since 1994. You have to go back another five years to find the last time he made more than 29 starts. His career almost ended by injuries, Saberhagen has gone from being a health riddle to a pitcher who's once again difficult to solve.

Bordick figured out something in the third. With the count full, he drilled a fastball into the Orioles' bullpen, 405 feet away, to reduce Boston's lead to 2-1.

Bordick also singled in the fifth inning and has hit in 10 of his last 11 games. Included in that stretch is a game-tying, two-run shot in the ninth inning Saturday against Anaheim.

Erickson landed in another jam in the fourth. As is often the case when he's pitching, it wasn't all his doing.

After Stanley singled to left with out out, O'Leary hit a slow roller up the first base line. Erickson got there in time to make the play, but Palmeiro couldn't secure a low throw and was charged with his eighth error. Buford then reached on a tapper to third to load the bases.

"It's been like that my whole career," said Erickson, who threw 59 pitches combined in the second and fourth innings. "Put the bat on the ball and hit it just soft enough to be effective."

Erickson fell behind 3-0 to Varitek before striking him out. After Sadler ran the count to 3-1, he hit a deep drive to right that Eric Davis corralled on the run, reaching above his head as he neared the warning track.

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