Red Sox deck O's, win wild card Exactly a year later, O's watch another clinching, but on down side of 9-6 loss

September 25, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- The magical properties of Sept. 24 again revealed themselves last night at Fenway Park. Exactly one year after the Orioles secured their first division title in 14 years, they became a willing accomplice to the Boston Red Sox clinching the AL wild card. The Orioles did everything for them except supply the suspense.

Before a chilled crowd of 30,997, Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez (19-7) became only the latest pitcher to muffle a dormant Orioles offense in a 9-6 victory. Likewise, Sidney Ponson (8-9) became the latest Orioles starter to stumble early.

The predictable result had the Red Sox rally from a 3-1 deficit with three runs in the fourth inning and another four during a 27-minute fifth.

The Red Sox led 8-3 with 14 hits heading into the sixth inning, leaving the 78-81 Orioles to take their fifth straight loss and ninth in 10 games. The act became so stale that Eric Davis decided to break up the right-field bleachers by giving them a Sammy Sosa salute. Davis received a standing ovation, doffed his cap and reveled in what little enjoyment could be found.

With a chance to factor in the wild-card race, the somnambulant Orioles fared little batter against the Red Sox than they did during a three-game sweep by the Toronto Blue Jays. But unlike their rollover against the Jays, the Orioles did put up a tussle against Martinez, whom they chased after 6 1/3 innings with five runs and homers by Chris Hoiles, rookie Calvin Pickering and B. J. Surhoff.

The Orioles finished with three bases-empty homers. Surhoff, who entered with only one home run since Aug. 20, produced his first two-homer game since August 1996 when he punished Dennis Eckersley for a second homer in the eighth. For Eckersley, it was career appearance No. 1,070, tying him with Hoyt Wilhelm for the most all-time appearances.

On the same night Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn reached 200 hits and went 3-for-5 to raise his average to .334, tying AL batting leader Bernie Williams, closer Tom Gordon set the major-league record for most consecutive saves converted by pitching a scoreless ninth inning.

Last night marked his 42nd straight conversion, breaking a tie with Trevor Hoffman and Rod Beck, neither of whom constructed their runs in a single season like Gordon, who has 45 saves for the season.

Martinez was looking for his first win since Aug. 29, though the Red Sox had scored only one run in his last 21 1/3 innings. Ponson was coming off a career highlight -- 7 1/3 shutout innings against the New York Yankees last Saturday.

The performance remains the Orioles' last win.

The loser in his last three appearances, Martinez had never lost four consecutive starts. The record lives only because the Red Sox's lineup relentlessly pummeled Ponson, Doug Johns and New Englander Pete Smith. Shortstop Nomar Garciaparra helped his MVP candidacy with two home runs, three hits, three RBIs and four runs. Every starter except John Valentin and Mike Benjamin had a hit before the fifth inning.

Hoiles, who has 39 RBIs in his last 43 games, put the Orioles ahead 2-0 with a second-inning home run that followed a shocking stolen base by the 280-pound Pickering. It didn't last long.

Wednesday night Aruba natives Ponson and Eugene Kingsale refused to participate in rookie hazing in Toronto that required them to don throwback women's fashions that attracted much attention as the club passed through customs. No matter. Ponson still got undressed last night.

Garciaparra answered with the first of two bases-empty homers in the bottom of the inning. Helped by a caught stealing and a double play in the first three innings, Ponson buckled in the fourth and fifth partly because of curious defense.

Vaughn's drive for a batting title got a boost when he lined a pitch to center field that Rich Becker watched fall at his feet. The additional out allowed the Red Sox to score three times. A Hoiles passed ball allowed Mike Stanley to score the inning's second run.

Ponson left in the fifth after he faced two of the nine hitters the Red Sox sent to the plate. Darren Lewis led off with an infield hit. After Valentin popped out, Ponson departed. Lewis advanced to third when Vaughn dribbled a hit-and-run single through second base to greet Johns. Asked to hold the game, Johns folded in his first relief appearance since Sept. 4. Four of the five hitters he faced hit safely. The only exception, Troy O'Leary, drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.

Down 8-3, the Orioles rallied in the seventh on Surhoff's first home run and an RBI single by Mike Bordick.

Garciaparra jacked the lead to 9-5 with his 35th home run and Surhoff replied with his second homer in two innings in the eighth. The significance was huge as it pulled the Orioles within three runs, creating the save situation for Gordon.

A year ago the Orioles had made history. This time they served as an embarrassing footnote.

Pub Date: 9/25/98

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