CLEVELAND - The Orioles and Cleveland Indians took their time yesterday deciding what eventually became the Indians' 12-11 win in 13 innings at Jacobs Field.
Before they were done, Indians center fielder Kenny Lofton screamed his return as a base-stealer and Orioles first baseman Chris Richard suggested his time is near with his new organization.
The pitching-thin marathon was played in miniature between Richard and Lofton. Lofton ended it with a one-out home run off Mike Trombley in the 13th inning after stealing a club-record five bases in the first seven innings. Richard twice extended it with his power.
A soft-spoken, 26-year-old rookie, Richard homered twice, tripled and doubled for six RBIs and came within Indians right fielder Bill Selby's shoestring catch of becoming the first Oriole to hit for the cycle since Cal Ripken in 1984.
In only his 33rd game with the Orioles, Richard equaled the club record with 13 total bases in a game, and the six RBIs also tied Albert Belle for most in a game this season.
"I think cycles are more difficult to get statistically than no-hitters. I would have liked to have seen him get it," said manager Mike Hargrove. "It was a big day for him. He was a big reason we were still in that ballgame. It's something to build on."
Locked behind Mark McGwire until a July 29 trade sent him from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Orioles as part of a deal for closer Mike Timlin, Richard now makes a case for himself as next season's starting first baseman.
"I can play a little if I have the chance," said Richard, now hitting .280 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs in 33 games. "It's good to have these games so people can see what I can do. These coaches haven't seen me play at all.
"It's my first year in the big leagues. I need to show that I can handle myself and can learn and progress and have a good attitude."
All Richard's RBIs came with two outs. He tripled home Belle with the Orioles' first run in the second inning, cracked a three-run homer in the fourth and reached hard-throwing Paul Shuey for a two-run shot in the seventh as a low-flying F-14 drowned out the sound of his 419-foot blast.
Extra innings brought Richard a chance to hit for the cycle. He doubled in the 10th inning and needed only a single when he hooked a 12th-inning drive to right field. Selby charged about five steps for the catch.
Lofton abused the Orioles with his legs, needing only seven innings to set a franchise record with five stolen bases. He ended the marathon with his 13th home run off Mike Trombley (4-5), whose punishment as last man standing was to pitch 3 1/3 innings.
Unfortunately for the majority of the 42,630 who left early, Lofton was the only quick thing about a game that lasted 5 hours and 17 minutes and featured 14 pitchers, 120 hitters and 147 pitches from two starting pitchers who lasted a combined 6 2/3 innings.
Not that the game dragged, but they could have substituted eras for innings. The first pitch coincided with the kickoffs in NFL afternoon games and the last came during the third period of the afternoon schedule. Women could have conceived and given birth before the seventh-inning stretch.
Ripken doubled twice in four at-bats as designated hitter to make him 3-for-7 since returning from the disabled list, but he still watched the final 6 1/2 innings from the clubhouse.
Ripken appeared to jar himself while cutting first base on his first double. He jangled his left leg and kicked the base after stopping, but insisted afterward there were no negative aftereffects.
"Paul Shuey is a very tough at-bat. When you see the ball and put something in play, that's a positive sign," said Ripken. "I must be doing something right."
Orioles rookie starter Jay Spurgeon received seven runs of support but wasn't allowed to return for the fourth inning, making him ineligible for the decision.
The lead became a moot point when reliever Jason Johnson needed only 12 pitches to squander a 7-5 lead. The Orioles led twice, but also rallied from deficits of 5-2 and 11-7, with Richard putting them ahead and pulling them even with his home runs.
The early innings were pitching-optional and the later ones turned into a non-hitting area. The teams combined for 22 runs and 23 hits through 6 1/2 innings, nine runs and 11 hits in the last 6 1/2 .
Shoulder surgery left Lofton reluctant to slide headfirst until mid-July. Even so, he entered yesterday with only three stolen bases since July 17 and had hit more than half as many homers (12) as he had stolen bases (20).
"I'm still hesitant about sliding headfirst, but I'm going to do it, anyway," Lofton said.
There was no reason not to yesterday. The Orioles have served as a green light for the rest of the league since the July 29 trade of Charles Johnson to the Chicago White Sox.
A combination of deliberate deliveries by the Orioles staff and their new catcher have allowed opponents to successfully steal 28 of 29 attempts against Brook Fordyce, including the last 23 in a row.