BOSTON -- A double play that wasn't forced Orioles pitcher Gregg Olson to pull another miracle out of his relief cap yesterday.
Olson began the ninth clinging to a 2-1 lead. Four batters later, there were bases loaded, one out, extra innings just a fly ball away -- and an angry group of Orioles on the field.
After striking out Herm Winningham, Olson began the rally by walking John Valentin. Wade Boggs followed with a single. Billy Hatcher then hit a slow bouncer to second baseman Bill Ripken, who made a sweeping motion to attempt a tag of Boggs and then threw to first trying to complete a game-ending double play.
Instead, the play almost ended the Orioles' hopes.
Both runners were ruled safe, bringing a long argument from the Orioles, who said that Boggs ran out of the base line to avoid Ripken's tag and that Hatcher was out at first base. After the game, the Orioles wouldn't discuss the play, but judging from their reaction on the field, that would not have been the case had the Red Sox come back to win.
Olson's initial response to his challenge was to strike out Phil Plantier on a nasty curveball. But then he fell behind to Tom Brunansky, first at 2-and-0, then 3-and-1. Two foul balls preceded a fly to Mike Devereaux in center field that ended the game and triggered an emotional outburst by Olson.
"You see a ground ball that's possibly a double play, and you don't get anybody out -- with Plantier and Brunansky coming up -- you don't feel very good," said Olson, who more than earned his 25th save. "Then I made it difficult on myself by making two bad pitches to go 2-and-0 [on Brunansky]."
Brunansky was happy with the contact he made, but not the direction the ball headed.
"I hit the ball good. But I hit it to the wrong part of the park," said Brunansky, who has two grand slams this season and is 5-for-10 with 17 RBI with the bases full. "I had my chances at 3-1 ... but fouled it back. At that point I've got to make sure he throws a strike."
* McDONALD IMPRESSES: Ben McDonald is showing signs of emerging as the kind of dominant pitcher the Orioles expect him to be.
In four starts since the All-Star break, the 6-foot-7 right-hander is 3-1 with a 2.01 ERA. He allowed only three hits, but walked five in the seven innings he worked in yesterday's 2-1 win.
"I struggled a little bit, but I'm happy with the end result," said McDonald. "I made some big pitches when I had to get out of jams."
McDonald's most troublesome spot before giving up a run in the seventh inning came in the third, when he ran into the same kind of trouble Olson would experience later.
Valentin led off with a double and went to third on a ground ball by Boggs.
McDonald responded by overmatching Hatcher, who tormented the Orioles with five hits in the first three games of the series, striking him out, and then got Plantier to hit a soft pop fly, which McDonald caught.
"Those were RBI situations," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "He was able to reach back and get something extra."
* BOSTON BAKED: By winning the last three against the Red Sox, the Orioles took a 6-3 lead in the season series. The Orioles finished the season 4-2 at Fenway Park and are 8-5 since the start of last year.
Before 1991, the Orioles had lost 16 of their previous 20 at Fenway.
* FADING FAST: The Red Sox wind up their longest homestand of the year, 14 games, with three games against the Toronto Blue Jays, starting tonight.
This was supposed to be the time the Red Sox got back in the race, but after losing seven of the first 11, they put themselves closer to last place than to third.
* YOUNG GUNS: The three Orioles starters who are under 25 years old -- McDonald (24), Mike Mussina (23) and Arthur Rhodes -- are a combined 24-11 with a 3.34 ERA. The Orioles have won all four games started by Rhodes, who faces Detroit tonight.