Imperfect 10th drops Orioles, 3-2 Benitez sets up defeat, may lose closer's role next year, Miller says

1-run loss is 3rd straight

Red Sox rally late, pad wild-card lead

September 18, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The opportunity for Armando Benitez to redeem himself lasted two batters. The repercussions from his failure could go much deeper.

Brought into the 10th inning last night with the score tied, Benitez allowed a double and hit a batter before leaving to jeers. Mo Vaughn singled in the go-ahead run off Arthur Rhodes, and the Orioles were sent to their third straight one-run loss, 3-2, to the Boston Red Sox before 44,565.

The game concluded with Tom Gordon setting a major-league single-season record with his 39th straight save, and Boston (86-65) increasing its wild-card lead over Toronto to five games. The Orioles (77-75) enter their final home series tonight against the New York Yankees with their magic number for elimination down to two.

Benitez (5-6) was making his first appearance since blowing a save Tuesday when Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez homered off him. Darren Lewis hit the first pitch off the left-field fence for a double, and Benitez plunked John Valentin behind the left shoulder after getting two strikes. Rhodes was summoned, and the outcome soon was decided.

Benitez huddled with Roberto Alomar and first base coach Carlos Bernhardt before meeting with reporters in front of his locker. Asked if he would be more comfortable returning to last year's setup duties, he said, "I don't have to be a setup man anymore. I've set up for three guys here. If I'm not the closer, let me out of here."

As for fan reaction, which has been harsh his last two outings, Benitez said, "If you pitch good, people love you. If you pitch bad, they hate you. That's normal."

Manager Ray Miller admitted that he would consider changing Benitez's role next season. "Yeah, he's still relatively young. If we did have a bona fide closer, that would give him another year to mature," Miller said.

"We all know this is a maturation process, but if you're going to be a closer you can't be streaky. You have to be consistent."

Though never named the closer by Miller, Benitez, 25, has pitched in that role most of the year, accumulating 21 saves. His season has been pocked by the bench-clearing brawl in New York, which he incited by hitting Tino Martinez in the back, a four-walk inning in Cleveland on Aug. 15, and a three-run homer to Seattle's Ken Griffey on Sept. 5 that led Miller for the first time to suggest the club might seek another closer over the winter.

Valentin was the first batter Benitez had hit since being slapped with an eight-game suspension in New York.

Rafael Palmeiro hit his 43rd homer in the fourth inning and Mike Mussina took a shutout into the seventh before surrendering a game-tying blast to rookie Donnie Sadler. It was the only serious mistake by Mussina, who threw 134 pitches and struck out 10 in nine innings.

Mussina retired the first seven batters, striking out four, until walking Scott Hatteberg in the third inning. Sadler poked a single to right field, and Lewis hit a liner up the middle that deflected off Mussina's glove to Alomar, who charged the ball and bounced a throw to third for the force.

Valentin reached on an infield hit to load the bases and bring up Vaughn, who was batting .348 with two homers in 46 career at-bats against Mussina. Vaughn worked the count full, fouled off a slider and struck out on a curve.

The Red Sox put a runner on base in each of the next six innings against Mussina, but only Troy O'Leary moved into scoring position, leading off the seventh with a double into the right-field corner. Mussina got the next two outs, then allowed Sadler's third home run, a liner into the seats in left.

Palmeiro had given the Orioles a 1-0 lead in the fourth by pulling a fastball from left-hander Pete Schourek over the scoreboard in right. He has homered against every team the Orioles have played, interleague play included.

The margin grew when Brady Anderson grounded a double down the right-field line, stole second on the next pitch and scored on a fly ball to center by Eric Davis.

Schourek, who retired eight in a row before Palmeiro's homer, was replaced by right-hander Jim Corsi after the sixth. He allowed only four hits and was stuck with his fourth straight no-decision. He's 0-3 since being acquired from Houston on Aug. 6.

Palmeiro opened the ninth with a single off left-hander Greg Swindell. Boston manager Jimy Williams called on Dennis Eckersley, who retired Ripken and Harold Baines on two pitches. Palmeiro stole second, sliding under a high throw from Hatteberg, but Chris Hoiles hit a foul pop to Vaughn.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: New York Yankees

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 35

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Yankees' David Wells (17-4, 3.35) vs. O's Juan Guzman (10-14, 4.16)

Tickets: Scattered singles

Tragic number: 2 (combination of Orioles losses and Red Sox wins needed to eliminate Orioles from AL wild-card race).

Pub Date: 9/18/98

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