Leo Gomez sensed he was in for some heckling, and his Orioles teammates didn't disappoint him.
"Hey, Speedy Gonzales," relief pitcher Todd Frohwirth said.
Speedy? Not quite. But, almost by accident, Gomez did get the second stolen base of his major-league career at a crucial time in the Orioles' 5-4 victory over the Yankees last night before 45,156, the 12th straight sellout at Oriole Park.
With the score tied at 4 in the bottom of the ninth, the none-too-swift third baseman walked, then stole second base when Mark McLemore failed to execute on a hit-and-run play. Gomez ran but McLemore didn't hit, or even swing.
Gomez went to third on McLemore's subsequent sacrifice bunt and scored the winning run on Mike Devereaux's single after intentional walks to pinch hitter Chito Martinez and Brady Anderson.
"All I'm going to say was that there was a missed sign on the hit-and-run and the Orioles got lucky," manager Johnny Oates said.
McLemore and Gomez said much more. With Gomez on first and none out, Oates signaled for a hit-and-run.
"I got the sign," McLemore said. "The pitch was low and way outside and I didn't swing. I should have, no matter where the pitch was. I just didn't do it."
Gomez, who had broken for second with Tim Burke's pitch, was somewhat alarmed to find himself in no-man's land between first and second.
"I told myself I had to run harder," Gomez said.
Helpfully, Yankees catcher Matt Nokes threw the ball on one bounce to second, allowing Gomez to slide in safely.
When a clubhouse visitor tried to console McLemore with the reminder that at least he got Gomez a stolen base, the second baseman snorted.
"No way, Nokes got it for him," McLemore said.
McLemore's subsequent bunt was perfect, as was Devereaux's single to right-center that fetched Gomez home.
"The first pitch was a sinker and the second was a sinker or a fastball that didn't sink," Devereaux said. "I just wanted a pitch out over the plate that I could get good wood on. I didn't want to hit into a double play."
The way Mike Mussina was pitching, it didn't appear that such heroics would be necessary. He breezed through the eighth with a 4-2 lead, but Oates got word from pitching coach Dick Bosman that Mussina was tired.
"All he'll ever say to me is 'I'm OK,' so I sent Boz to talk to him," Oates said. "He told Boz after the seventh he was tired but wanted to go back out. Then he gave up the home run to [Charlie] Hayes and would have come out in that inning if one more guy got on."
Said Mussina, "My arm was dragging. I knew I was out."
Lefthander Mike Flanagan came on to begin the ninth, but allowed a single to the only man he faced, Mel Hall. Gregg Olson was next, and Roberto Kelly tied it with a home run.
It was the first time since April 10 -- 20 save opportunities -- that Olson let one slip away.
"They are a very potent lineup," Olson said of the Yankees. "I came in to face Kelly, who's a .300 hitter, and then face [Don] Mattingly, [Danny] Tartabull and [Kevin] Maas after that. No weak spots in the lineup."
At that point, with the club having blown the lead, Oates said it was the lowest point for him of the season.
The Orioles were in danger of losing back-to-back series for the first time this year. In the previous eight games the staff's ERA had soared from 3.48, second in the American League, to 3.94, seventh. Mussina had seemed bent on halting the opponents' high scoring.
"You work hard and struggle to win," Oates said. "It was eight days ago that we left Detroit with 37 wins. Eight days to win three. This 40th was a long time coming."
Oates says Flanagan isn't as effective when he is asked to come in to face one batter, as he was last night against the lefthanded-hitting Hall, as he is if allowed to go a few innings.
"But Hall had never done anything against Flanny," Oates said. "When we find another lefthander, we can move Flanny back to where he was last year -- long relief. We need one lefthander to get that one lefthanded hitter out. That will free Flanny to work two, three innings at a time, which allows him to get his rhythm."
With the win, the Orioles split the four-game series with New York and remain one game behind first-place Toronto. Tonight, they play the first of three games in Milwaukee, then return Friday to entertain the Kansas City Royals.