Johnson's hit in 10th wins it, 6-5

Belle has big night with game-tying HR in 8th, 4 hits, defense

O's take 6th straight

Ripken chips in homer in rally past Royals

June 16, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Orioles got only a couple of innings from the starting rotation and quickly fell behind by four runs last night, but this apparently isn't the same team that departed Baltimore in disarray 10 days ago.

Obviously, somewhere between Miami and Atlanta the club stopped off for a heart transplant, because something has to account for the steady beat that the Orioles have developed over the past week.

They shook off the early trouble last night and climbed back to score a 6-5, extra-inning victory over the Kansas City Royals, extending their season-long winning streak to six games before a crowd of 41,377 at Camden Yards.

Catcher Charles Johnson singled home Albert Belle with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning to register an uplifting win that included so many offensive and defensive highlights that manager Ray Miller could not fit them all into his post-game monologue.

Several of them belonged to Belle, whose tantrum last week -- strangely enough -- is beginning to look like the catalyst in the club's stunning turnaround.

He made a diving catch to squelch a budding Kansas City rally in the second inning. He hit a game-tying home run to complete the comeback in the eighth. And his fourth hit of the game began the 10th-inning rally that moved the Orioles to the brink of their second series sweep in a row.

"I think that was big," said Miller. "To have a streak going, be down 5-1 and come back with everybody participating -- that's a big lift for this ballclub."

Miller sidestepped questions about the timing of Belle's offensive resurgence, which seems to have coincided with the blowup in Florida and the subsequent decision to bench him for one game in Atlanta.

The four-hit game was his first of the year. The home run was only his second in the last 20 games. But he is a notorious slow starter and it is finally the time of year when he generally turns up the volume.

"It's been a while since he hit a meaningful home run, but he's been getting a lot of hits," said Miller. "Baseball is a game of peaks and valleys. Guys like him stay at the peaks longer than everybody else. Albert Belle is a good player and we're all playing good right now."

Johnson's game-winning hit made the difference, but it may have been his defensive acumen that saved the game. He picked Royals third baseman Joe Randa off second base with no outs in the top of the 10th to take reliever Mike Timlin out of a dangerous situation.

"I thought the big thing was the pickoff play," said Johnson, "because it brought the momentum back on our side. I saw [Mike] Bordick and there was daylight between him and the runner, so I knew I had a chance. I was very excited. As a catcher, that's the kind of thing you're looking for."

There were several other big performances. Cal Ripken started the Orioles on the long road back with his eighth home run of the season in the fourth inning. First baseman Will Clark moved Belle into scoring position in the 10th with his 2,000th career hit.

Perhaps most significant, however, was the strong performance of long reliever Scott Kamieniecki, who pitched 4 1/3 scoreless innings after fifth starter Jason Johnson could not get through the third.

Jason Johnson had tried to pick up where his veteran rotation mates left off -- a tall order considering that Orioles starters were 5-0 with a 1.83 ERA over the previous nine games -- but he surrendered a run in the second inning and let a dubious umpiring call undo him in the third.

The Royals took advantage of a leadoff single and a two-out walk to set up their first run, tying the game in the second on an RBI single and missing out on at least one more run when Belle made a great diving catch to rob Rey Sanchez of a bloop single.

Belle, whose level of effort has come into question on a number of occasions this year, also displayed great hustle after he singled home the first run of the game in the first inning. He beat a close play at second to get into scoring position on the throw to the plate, but Royals starter Chris Fussell eventually got out of trouble when Jermaine Dye ran down Will Clark's line drive in the right-field corner to end the inning.

Johnson was not so fortunate in the third. He walked leadoff hitter Scott Pose to open the inning and allowed the next three batters to reach base after a questionable call at second cost the Orioles what would have been a very important out.

Charles Johnson appeared to gun down Pose on a steal attempt, but didn't get the call from second base umpire Dave Phillips -- even though Pose's foot pinned Bordick's glove to the bag. The video replay also favored the Orioles, but the Royals parlayed the fortunate call into their second run and went on to knock Johnson out of the game with a four-run rally.

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