DETROIT - Here are a couple of things the Orioles had working against them yesterday when they entered the ninth inning against the Detroit Tigers, down by a run:
Recent history. Eighteen times they had trailed entering the ninth inning this season. Eighteen times they had lost.
Distant history. On the mound stood Tigers closer Ugueth Urbina, whose career numbers against the Orioles included 13 saves and a 0.93 ERA.
So how do you overcome history? Apparently, you scramble it with a sequence of missed signs, clutch hits and hair-pulling decisions. Then, if you're lucky, you'll come away with a 7-3 victory as the Orioles did at Comerica Park.
The Orioles (23-23) scored six runs off Urbina in spellbinding fashion to complete a three-game sweep of the Tigers and return to the .500 mark just in time for a short stretch against the American League East leaders.
After a one-game makeup at Boston today, the Orioles will head to New York for a three-game series against the Yankees, taking with them some of the momentum they lost during a seven-game skid that ended here Friday.
"To score six runs in the ninth inning off Urbina, that's not an easy task," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said, replaying the key moments in his head. "It was a real good win, real good."
Up to the ninth inning, the entire afternoon seemed like one big missed opportunity for the Orioles. Tigers starter Mike Maroth held them to one run in seven innings, and the lineup was littered with failure: Melvin Mora, whose American League-leading average fell to .380, had squandered two at-bats with a runner on third and less than two outs - striking out in the first inning and grounding out in the sixth.
Miguel Tejada was 0-for-2 with runners in scoring position, lowering his batting average in those situations to .234.
Javy Lopez had grounded into an inning-ending double play in the fourth, and Jose Leon had done the same in the seventh. Detroit scored two runs off Orioles starter Erik Bedard in six innings and carried a 2-1 lead into the ninth.
"We never think we're out of a game," Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts said. "If we don't feel like we're done when it's 8-2, you know we're not going to feel done when it's 2-1."
So here's how it happened: Urbina had converted all six of his save opportunities for the Tigers this season, and he quickly got ahead in the count to Lopez, 0-2, with two sliders before throwing another one that Lopez lined to center for a single.
Roberts said that was the key moment. "If he goes down with three swings, who knows what happens?" he said.
Next came Luis Matos, who also fell behind in the count 0-2, before driving a single into left-center field.
This brought Mazzilli to his most crucial decision - whether to use B.J. Surhoff to sacrifice bunt. Leon was on deck, but Mazzilli had Rafael Palmeiro on the bench waiting to pinch hit.
Mazzilli said he figured the Tigers would just walk Palmeiro intentionally, to face Robert Machado with the bases loaded, if Surhoff moved the runners ahead with a bunt.
So Mazzilli let the veteran swing away, and Surhoff singled to short center field, scoring pinch runner Larry Bigbie with the tying run.
Mazzilli said that at-bat was the key to the rally. "If he makes an out, everybody's going to say, `Why didn't you bunt him over?' " the manager said. "So we rolled the dice with him."
With the score tied, Mazzilli used Palmeiro to pinch hit for Leon, and Urbina pitched around him for a walk, loading the bases for Machado, who struck out swinging - another unsuccessful at-bat with a runner at third base and less than two outs.
That brought Roberts to the plate - one out, bases still loaded. With a 2-0 count, Orioles third base coach Tom Trebelhorn looked in for Mazzilli's sign and lost something as the manager flashed them behind the myriad bars and railings in the visitors' dugout.
Trebelhorn said he thought Mazzilli wanted the suicide squeeze.
Matos broke from third, and Roberts fouled the pitch up in the air, straight back to the screen. The Orioles caught a huge break.
"That was a missed sign," Mazzilli said to a group of reporters who were wowed. "That's what I said, `Wow!' "
But Urbina just wasn't himself. He missed with his next two pitches to Roberts, walking home the go-ahead run as boos rained down from the crowd of 25,337.
Then the Orioles pulled away. Jerry Hairston, who finished the day 4-for-4, crushed a pitch off the left-center-field wall, and two runs scored on the long single.
Tigers manager Alan Trammell pulled Urbina, but Bigbie added a two-run single off Jamie Walker.
All six runs were charged to Urbina, whose ERA jumped to 5.17 from 1.76.
The Tigers scored one in the ninth off closer Jorge Julio, but by that point, the Orioles had overcome enough history to secure the win.