The Baltimore Orioles played last night like there was no tomorrow, and why not?
In this, their season to both remember and forget, the present is all they have left, and the New York Yankees seem willing to help them make the most of it.
Rookie left-hander Arthur Rhodes couldn't get past his 12th out again, but the Orioles forced the action all night long and pushed the Yankees to the brink of a three-game sweep with a 6-3 victory before 22,551 at Memorial Stadium.
zTC There are only 12 games left at the old ballpark, and the countdown was beginning to take on a whole new meaning. But Mike Devereaux and Cal Ripken hit back-to-back homers in the third inning to give the Orioles the lead, and reliever Todd Frohwirth turned in another outstanding relief effort on the way to the club's 1,700th victory at Memorial Stadium.
Frohwirth pitched 4 2/3 innings of two-hit relief to earn his sixth victory in nine decisions and, perhaps, further establish himself as the most effective Orioles pitcher of 1991.
You certainly could make a case for it. He dropped his ERA to 1.92 with his 32nd scoreless outing in 43 games.
"No doubt about it," manager John Oates said.
Frohwirth has been the most pleasant surprise of an unpleasant season. He was called up from the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings on May 28 and opened his Orioles career with seven straight scoreless appearances. Now, the 28-year-old right-hander seems certain of a setup role on next year's club.
"I looked at this as my last chance," Frohwirth said. "I came up and I knew I had to give it all I've got. I'm 28, so there was no time to say, 'How do I feel?' I had to go out and do it."
It was a night of reckoning for Rhodes, whose future in the Orioles rotation no longer is open-ended. Oates said before the game that the rookie left-hander was not certain to finish the season in the rotation.
"We've only got him for two more starts right now," Oates said. "There are three other possibilities -- against Boston here, against New York there and the final day here.
"He could get all of them, but another option would be to give him the New York game and use [Dave] Johnson or [Anthony] Telford against Boston."
Rhodes' turn would come up on the final home date, but it seems very unlikely that he would be the starter in a game of such ceremonial significance. Oates indicated that if Rhodes still is in the rotation at that point, he probably would start the Saturday game and Bob Milacki would start the Memorial Stadium finale.
Last night's game was a slight improvement over Rhodes' first three starts, none of which lasted more than four innings. He retired the Yankees in order in the first before giving up a pair of unearned runs in the second.
Outfielder Hensley Meulens reached first on a throwing error by fill-in third baseman Tim Hulett to lead off the inning and Rhodes quickly complicated the situation with a walk to rookie Mike Humphreys. Alvaro Espinoza singled to load the bases, but Rhodes got a double-play ball that would have gotten him out of the inning if not for the error. Instead, a run scored on the play and Bob Geren followed with a bloop single to give the Yankees the lead.
Sam Horn put the Orioles on the board first with an RBI double in the first inning. Devereaux and Ripken got them back on top in the third with back-to-back bases-empty home runs.
Yankees starter Eric Plunk struggled from the start, and Devereaux didn't do anything to let him get comfortable on the mound. Hitting in the second spot in the order for the first time this year, he walked and stole two bases in the first inning before scoring on Horn's double. The home run was Devereaux's 17th of the year, five more than his previous season high.
"I know that I'm not the premier leadoff hitter," said Devereaux, who ceded that spot to Luis Mercedes last night. "I don't bunt enough. I don't bunt at all. Whatever helps the team most. That's what I want to do."
Ripken followed him to the plate in the third and pulled a low line drive over the left-field fence for his 27th homer, one shy of his career high, which he set during his Rookie of the Year season in 1982.
It was his first homer in 19 games -- the longest homerless streak he has had all year -- but his 92nd RBI kept him on pace to challenge his career high (110, set in 1985).
Rhodes rebounded well from the two-run second. He had runners on base in each of the next two innings, but struck out four batters to stay out of trouble.
His live arm has been the pride of the minor-league system the past couple of years, but he didn't overpower anyone in his first three starts. He struck out two in his major-league debut and one in his second start before striking out none and taking a solid beating in Minnesota his last time out.
This time, Oates didn't allow him to struggle. Rhodes allowed the first two batters to reach base in the fifth and gave way to reliever Mark Williamson, who didn't get out of the inning, either.
He gave up a single and a walk before turning a one-out, bases-loaded situation over to Frohwirth.