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 -- As anniversaries go, they don't come more bitter than last night in Fenway Park's third base dugout. There, along with a chilled, delirious crowd of 30,903, the Orioles watched the Boston Red Sox complete an unlikely run for the AL wild card on the same day they had clinched the 1997 AL East title in Toronto.

"It seems like five years ago," mused Orioles manager Ray Miller.

The Red Sox clinched the playoff berth by disposing of the Orioles, 9-6, with 18 hits and by stringing together a chapter's worth of significant history.

The Red Sox won their 90th game for the first time since 1986, their last World Series year. They used Dennis Eckersley, giving the Eck-meister 1,070 career appearances, tying him with Hoyt Wilhelm for the all-time lead. Closer Tom Gordon pitched a perfect ninth by striking out the side, giving him a single-season record 42 consecutive saves. Mo Vaughn took over the AL batting lead from Bernie Williams with three hits, including his 200th of the season.

The Orioles were merely being fair. They suffered a three-game sweep in Toronto earlier this week to keep alive the Blue Jays' flickering playoff hopes.

Last night they tumbled to 18-27 within their division thanks to another uninspired effort. As the Red Sox danced on the middle of the field, the Orioles retreated to the clubhouse with a fifth consecutive loss, their ninth in 10 games.

At 78-81, they no longer see the carrot of a winning season dangled before them, as if that ever really served as a motivation.

"It's been a year?" asked pitching coach Mike Flanagan. "There's a big difference between then and now, that's for sure."

Cal Ripken usually watches such celebrations, but last night he left for the clubhouse. B. J. Surhoff likewise found little value in the scene.

"I've been on both sides," he said. "I've been on the field when the Red Sox have clinched before."

Asked if he saw the irony in last night's juxtaposition with Sept. 24, 1997, Surhoff declined. "I didn't even remember, to tell you the truth."

Surhoff at least could derive some personal satisfaction. His two home runs were double his total since Aug. 20 and gave him 20 this season.

One of eight pending free agents -- nine if Juan Guzman can't be re-signed or traded -- Surhoff downplayed the threshold as "just a number" but gladly pounded fists with bench coach Eddie Murray in a quiet celebration.

Let the Red Sox and their fans look ahead to the Division Series. The Orioles' magic number dropped to three. Any combination of wins and losses adding up to three means their crumpled season can end and they may concentrate on the real business of free agency and self-analysis.

"A different year, different people," commented Flanagan. "It's a different season and you have to deal with different things."

Instead of making history, the Orioles now supply the footnotes. They mashed four home runs, including two by Surhoff in consecutive innings, only to have their starting pitching and long relief abandon them.

Sidney Ponson (8-9) surrendered nine hits and five earned runs in 4 1/3 innings before giving way to an even less effective Doug Johns. Making his first relief appearance since Sept. 5, Johns allowed four hits to the five hitters he faced. The fifth produced a sacrifice fly during a four-run fifth inning.

Red Sox starting pitcher Pedro Martinez (19-7) avoided losing a fourth consecutive start with 6 1/3 uneven innings. Chris Hoiles, rookie Calvin Pickering and Surhoff reached him for home runs, but the onslaught against Ponson and Johns more than compensated.

The Orioles actually led for 3 1/2 innings -- equaling their time of advantage during a three-game sweep in Toronto -- before folding.

Besides Vaughn's three hits, Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra contributed two home runs among three hits. Catcher Scott Hatteberg enjoyed a 4-for-4 game as seven starters crafted multi-hit games.

"It's a small step. We understand that," Garciaparra said in a quiet and dry Red Sox clubhouse. "There's still a postseason to play."

The Orioles' act became so stale that Eric Davis decided to break up the right-field bleachers by giving the fans a Sammy Sosa salute. Davis received a standing ovation, doffed his cap and reveled in what little enjoyment could be found.

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. The lead didn't last long.

Wednesday night Ponson had refused to participate in clubhouse hazing that required rookies to wear women's clothing through customs.

No matter. The Red Sox did what his teammates couldn't, undressing him with a steady barrage of hits.

"You don't like to watch, yet you know the feeling," said Miller, in this instance speaking of the celebration before him rather than the season behind him.

Pub Date: 9/25/98

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