O's persevere, solve N.Y. hex

2-run 9th drops Yanks, 9-7, despite 6 unearned runs, blown 4-0 lead

April 16, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- On a night that was supposedly reserved for Roger Clemens tying the American League record for consecutive wins, the Orioles instead ended nearly two seasons' worth of frustration. They accomplished the improbable. They bounced the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium.

For at least a few hours the death watch over the struggling team slackened. While the Orioles allowed six unearned runs, stranded 16 runners and denied Mike Mussina a third win, they also treated a five-time Cy Young Award winner like a minor-league free agent before receiving a lockdown effort by relievers Arthur Rhodes (1-1) and Mike Timlin.

"Nothing is ever normal in New York, I guess," Mussina said.

The Orioles won because Jeff Reboulet and Jeff Conine, both of whom entered late in the game, had run-producing hits in the ninth inning off closer Mariano Rivera (0-1). They recovered from two leads blown because of unearned runs and never flinched late.

The 3-6 Orioles ended a nine-game losing streak at Yankee Stadium by withstanding a five-run second inning that exploded after third baseman Cal Ripken committed two errors on the same two-out grounder. Right fielder Albert Belle reached Clemens for two home runs but also left the bases loaded twice. B. J. Surhoff slashed four hits.

"Hopefully, it'll lead to something because we need to get on a little roll here and get back to normal. We'll try to ease our way back into it and see what happens," Mussina said.

He lasted 6 1/3 innings, surrendering 10 hits but only one earned run. Rhodes and Timlin followed with 2 2/3 hitless innings in which Rhodes struck out four straight hitters and Timlin gained his third save. For an evening, the Yankees seemed as vulnerable as the Orioles.

It wasn't enough that the Orioles denied Clemens another piece of history by sending him to his quickest exit in nearly four years. Instead of gaining his 17th consecutive win -- tying an American League record shared by former Oriole Dave McNally and Depression-era pitcher Johnny Allen -- Clemens was booed from the field by a crowd of 30,958 after he allowed 11 hits in return for nine outs.

Still, it took Reboulet's second hit since last Aug. 7 to make the Orioles secure in ending a jinx extending to 1997.

"It's a mismatch, but I hung in there," Reboulet said of his matchup with Rivera. "He throws hard and he cuts it. I tried to get him early and that didn't work, so I choked up and I finally got one I could hit."

Clemens hasn't lost since May 29, 1998, against Seattle. In 24 starts since, he never failed to pitch at least five innings, strike out fewer than three hitters or allow more than five runs. The big-swinging Orioles obliterated each of the standards in sending Clemens to his quickest exit since lasting only 1 1/3 innings against the Minnesota Twins on July 23, 1995.

Belle staked the Orioles to a 2-0 lead by yanking a first-inning homer to left. Belle entered the game a career .182 hitter with one home run in 66 at-bats vs. Clemens. The Orioles ripped into Clemens for two more runs in the second. Ripken singled and took third on Mike Bordick's double. Brady Anderson singled to score Ripken before DeShields broke an 0-for-10 start with the inning's fourth hit, scoring Bordick.

Typically, four-run leads are safe with Mussina pitching. Typically, the Orioles are able to catch and throw the ball.

This was not a typical defensive game, though it did extend concerns about Ripken's slow start at the plate and afield.

Mussina was an out away from escaping a problematic second inning when Luis Sojo grounded to Ripken's glove side. After Ripken booted the ball he compounded the gaffe by hurriedly throwing past Clark at first for a double error, his fourth and fifth in his last four games. Though Ripken insists his condition has improved since he missed two games with lower back stiffness last week, his movements at the position remain less fluid. Both Wednesday's and last night's initial error came when he needed to extend laterally.

"In some respects I feel rusty. I know I have to have patience. Maybe I'm pushing it a little too much. The good news is physically I feel good. It's just a matter of feeling comfortable and getting it all together," said Ripken, who missed seven games in spring training in addition to last week's two.

"Sometimes miscues don't lead to much of anything. Sometimes they come in big spots. They have the ability to put together a few hits when they get another team in trouble and that's what they did," Mussina said. "It just happened to come up at an inopportune moment and it seemed to change everything after that. It changes who I'm facing each other, how many times guys are getting to the plate.

"It's unfortunate it happened right there. I got what I wanted. I got a ground ball. But some things are out of my control."

Bernie Williams and Chili Davis scored on the errors. Though absolved of any earned runs, Mussina couldn't extricate himself from the inning.

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