Orioles, Mesa walk tightrope for a most improbable victory


The Orioles woke up the echoes on 33rd Street last night.

When was the last time the patrons at Memorial Stadium hailed a walk the way they did Dwight Evans' sixth-inning pass?

And when was the last time an infield grounder that barely reached third base got as much response as Bob Melvin's did one batter later?

Not any time this season.

Last night was a night for rekindling old feelings, for reliving the frenzy of Memorial Stadium past. A vocal crowd of 19,918 waited out a 47-minute rain delay after the first inning and was rewarded with one of the more improbable victories in recent Orioles' history.

"It was a game we had no business winning and we did," manager Frank Robinson said after squeaking past the Seattle Mariners, 2-1, with a grand total of three hits.

It was a victory that sent the Orioles winging off to Rochester for tonight's exhibition with their Triple A farm club on an upbeat note. It was a victory with odd heroes and peculiar goats.

Call Jose Mesa one of the heroes. On a night when Seattle's Randy Johnson flirted with a no-hitter for six innings, Mesa flirted with disaster for seven. Four different innings, the first two Mariners he faced got on base. Incredibly, only one of them scored.

In seven innings, Mesa pitched to 31 batters, 20 of them from the stretch. Mariners were everywhere all night long, except crossing home plate.

"My fastball wasn't working good," Mesa explained. "It was all over the place."

Mesa, now 2-3 with a 2.62 earned run average, was good when he had to be. The Mariners were 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position against him, and stranded 10 for the game. The Orioles executed three double plays behind him.

"Pretty much all game long he didn't know where he was throwing the ball," said Melvin, his catcher. "Of all his starts, this might have been the least stuff he's had.

"He didn't have much of a breaking ball, and his fastball had so much movement it crossed me up."

Call Melvin a hero, too. Batting fifth in the lineup because he was 8-for-15 lifetime against the lefthanded Johnson, Melvin's slow infield roller in the sixth inning not only broke the no-hit bid but provided the Orioles' winning margin. He also singled in the eighth against Bill Swift to collect two of the team's three hits.

"I had to do all the hitting tonight and carry the team," Melvin said, smiling at his own joke.

Johnson had faced 16 batters through five innings, one over the minimum. But in the sixth, he lost his control and walked the bases loaded.

With two out and Evans at the plate, the Orioles fans rose from their seats in thunderous anticipation. After going to a full count and fouling two more pitches off, Evans finally drew ball four to force in the tying run.

That brought up Melvin, who promptly nudged a grounder toward third. Seattle's Edgar Martinez fielded the ball on the edge of the infield grass and threw across his body to first. The throw pulled first baseman Pete O'Brien off the bag and Melvin was safe. Even though a good throw might have nailed Melvin, the play was ruled a hit because of its difficulty.

That was the sum and substance of the Orioles' attack. And it was all they would need after a baserunning gaffe by Ken Griffey Jr. cost the Mariners the tying run.

Griffey stroked a one-out double inside the third base bag on an 0-2 pitch off Mesa in the seventh. Martinez followed with a fly ball down the line in right that was deep enough to score the run. But Griffey left the base early, and even though Evans' throw didn't get him at home, first baseman Randy Milligan's appeal play to third did. Umpire Ken Kaiser quickly approved the appeal.

"He was off the base by five feet at least," third baseman Craig Worthington said of Griffey.

Even Mariners manager Jim Lefebvre didn't argue the case long. "According to [third base coach Bill] Plummer, he left real early," Lefebvre said. "And he didn't have to. Kaiser said, 'Jim, it wasn't even close. He took two steps before the catch.' "

"How many times do you get a call where the guy is leaving the base early?" Robinson asked rhetorically. "Maybe once a season . . . that was another break for us."

Mesa got relief help from Mike Flanagan (eighth), Mark Williamson (eighth) and Gregg Olson (ninth) to nail down the win.

"Sometimes you just have to go out there and gut one out, grind one out," Robinson said. "We feel like we've stolen something tonight."

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