Orioles manager Mike Hargrove must feel like he stepped back in time this past week.
All of a sudden, his young club looks like the 1995 Cleveland Indians.
That Cleveland team seemed to stage a big comeback every other night. For four consecutive games, the Orioles have done the same thing, and none of those comebacks seemed more improbable than last night's.
Trailing by one run in the bottom of the ninth inning, facing a closer who hadn't allowed an earned run all season, the Orioles rallied for a 4-3 victory before 39,519 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles loaded the bases against Mariners closer Kazuhiro Sasaki, and then Jay Gibbons hit a two-run single that skidded just fair down the first base line, touching off a mob scene in the infield.
It was the first time in 25 chances the Orioles had won a game when trailing after the eighth inning. But the Orioles seemed to be building toward this when they erased deficits of at least four runs on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday - winning two of those games.
"I don't know if it will turn around a season," Hargrove said. "It certainly doesn't hurt what we're trying to accomplish."
Sasaki (2-1) entered the ninth inning with a 0.00 ERA in 20 appearances spanning 20 2/3 innings. His remarkable streak ended when he was charged with two runs (one earned) in the ninth.
Gary Matthews started the winning rally by beating out a single that Mariners second baseman Bret Boone stopped in shallow right field. Chris Singleton followed with a sacrifice bunt, and even though Seattle third baseman Jeff Cirillo called for the ball, Sasaki picked it up and fired wide of first base.
With the ball rolling in foul territory, the speedy Matthews raced about 20 feet past third base, but base coach Tom Trebelhorn wisely stopped him when Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki came up throwing.
"I couldn't believe Ichiro got there so quick," Matthews said. "I looked up and he had the ball."
With runners at second and third, Sasaki walked Jeff Conine intentionally, loading the bases. Gibbons said he went to the plate just trying to make contact, and he wound up hitting Sasaki's trademark pitch, a split-fingered fastball.
The Orioles stormed from the dugout in two groups, with one congratulating Gibbons on the infield, and the other mobbing Matthews at home plate.
"There's no better way to do it," Gibbons said. "Especially against a team like the Mariners."
The Mariners were 25-0 when leading after the eighth inning. But their vaunted bullpen has shown some cracks in this series, blowing save opportunities in three consecutive games.
For Sasaki, this marked the third blown save in 15 chances.
"It looked a little bleak for us," Hargrove said, "going into the ninth inning with the probably the best closer in the American League ... and maybe all of baseball on the mound."
Still, the recent comeback spree had given the Orioles confidence.
"We know we've got the type of personnel that can put together a rally late in the ballgame," said Jeff Conine, who doubled and scored to trim Seattle's lead to 3-2 in the seventh. "We're not up there pressing. We're doing whatever we can to get the lead."
For five innings, Rodrigo Lopez and James Baldwin staged a scoreless pitchers' duel, with Lopez holding the Mariners to three hits and Baldwin holding the Orioles to one.
In one of his best starts of the season, Lopez allowed three runs (two earned) on seven hits over seven innings. He entered the game with the third-best ERA in the American League and kept it sitting at 2.57.
Willis Roberts (3-1) earned the victory, pitching two innings of scoreless relief and quietly lowering his ERA to 1.91.
An error by Conine, the first baseman, sparked the Mariners in the sixth. Suzuki hit a two-hop bullet, and the ball handcuffed Conine, bouncing into right field. It was Conine's fifth error of the season and the third in a week.
Suzuki stole second base and scored on Mark McLemore's single to right-center field. Then McLemore stole second base and scored on John Olerud's double, which also went into right-center.
Pitching on eight days' rest, Baldwin retired 14 consecutive batters heading into the sixth inning, but Marty Cordova broke that streak with a leadoff home run. After falling behind in the count 0-2, Cordova choked up on the bat and lofted a fastball over the center-field fence.
The Mariners made it 3-1 in the seventh, as Desi Relaford hit a leadoff double, moved to third on Dan Wilson's sacrifice bunt and scored on Mike Cameron's double down the third base line.
A week ago, that lead might have seemed insurmountable. Not anymore.
"These kinds of wins can mean huge things for a club that's building," Hargrove said. "Immediately, you feel good about yourself. But it's really positive down the road because when you're able to do this against that type of ballclub; it sets your mind that you're really never out of a ballgame."
TV/Radio:Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Mariners' Joel Pineiro (4-2, 2.81) vs. Orioles' Sean Douglass (0-1, 6.75)