CLEVELAND -- The Orioles obviously didn't want their surprising 1992 season to end.
The final game lasted 13 innings and more than four hours, but the Orioles finally recorded their 89th victory of the season with a 4-3 triumph over the Cleveland Indians on a cold and windy afternoon at Cleveland Stadium.
Reserve catcher Jeff Tackett drove in the deciding run with a sacrifice fly for his second RBI of the game, helping Alan Mills record his 10th victory of the season. Right-hander Bob Milacki made a rare late-relief appearance to get the final three outs and record his first major-league save.
It was one of those games that was reflective of the entire season. The Orioles had missed some chances to win earlier, but they had rallied from a two-run deficit in the ninth against Cleveland ace Charles Nagy.
"I was thinking that in the ninth inning," manager Johnny Oates said. "How many times were there this year when we could have just thrown in the towel and just finished it? But they were diving after balls in the outfield and running them out on the bases. That was indicative of the effort they have put out all year."
The season could have come full circle for the Indians. Nagy lost a 2-0 decision to Rick Sutcliffe on a chilly Opening Day at Oriole Park six months ago. He was in position to out-duel Ben McDonald and win by the same score when the Orioles scored three times in the ninth to take the lead.
McDonald pitched eight innings and did not allow an earned run, but he was fortunate to get away without a loss. He gave up four hits and struck out eight, but finished the season with a 13-13 record and a 4.24 ERA. His 14th victory was there for the taking, but relief stopper Gregg Olson wild-pitched a run home in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into overtime.
Olson could have equaled his career high with his 37th save of the year, but instead had to go home for the winter smarting from his eighth blown save opportunity.
McDonald still goes away with some decent numbers. He pitched 227 innings and had 158 strikeouts in the first injury-free season of his major-league career. Nagy completed a breakthrough season, emerging as one of the most effective starters in the American League with a 17-10 record and a 2.97 ERA.
"They both pitched very well," Oates said. "Of course, the last-day strike zone didn't hurt anybody either."
It didn't do anything to get the Orioles flight back to Baltimore, but no one was complaining. The club finished the season 22 games better than a year before and just one victory short of the only stated numerical goal that Oates would ever reveal. The final tally showed them seven games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, but everyone knows how long they ran neck-in-neck with the eventual American League East champions.
The club came a long way in a short time, but Oates doesn't want it to stop there. He has stressed the general concept of improvement over any specific goals this year, and he plans to keep the same mind-set through the winter.
"I'm tickled to death with the effort I got," he said, "and I am happy with the results. But I want the guys to know that we have a long way to go. Compared to last year, 89 victories was a lot. Compared to the Toronto Blue Jays and the Milwaukee Brewers, it was not enough."
Oates said on Opening Day that 1992 would be a successful year if his club was better on Oct. 4 than on April 6. Though the team played better in the first half than the second, he firmly believes that the Orioles made great strides.
"There is no doubt in my mind that we're better, if for no other reason than our starting pitching," he said. "Now the goal is to be better on Opening Day next year than we are now. We're going to try to improve our ballclub. We have to be better next year if we want to win this division."
The starting pitching was outstanding at times. Sutcliffe was on a 20-win pace much of the season. Mike Mussina put up Cy Young-caliber numbers. McDonald matured. Rookie Arthur Rhodes came up at midseason and blossomed. Of those four, Sutcliffe is the only one who isn't certain to be at spring training.
The bullpen also featured some pleasant developments, particularly Mills, who came over in a seemingly insignificant trade. If not for Mills, the Orioles might not have remained competitive when relievers Jim Poole and Mark Williamson were lost to injuries at the outset.
If there was a major disappointment, it was the inability of the heart of the lineup to put together representative run-production numbers. Cal Ripken, Glenn Davis and Randy Milligan all suffered through subpar seasons. Only the outstanding performances of Mike Devereaux (24 home runs, 107 RBI) and Brady Anderson (21 home runs, 80 RBI, 53 stolen bases) kept the offense moving.
The Orioles' shot at the division title slipped away when they slipped into a lengthy offensive slump in September, tying a club record with 21 consecutive games in which they scored four runs or fewer. The club fell into third place with a couple of weeks to go and watched the Milwaukee Brewers make a last-ditch attempt to unseat the Blue Jays.
Leading the way
Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson spent the season pursuing the major-league record for RBI by a leadoff hitter, but he fell five short of Harvey Kuenn's 85 and finished tied for seventh on the all-time single-season list. Here is the top 10:
No. Player.. .. .. ...Team .. .. .. .. .. .Year.. .. ...RBI
1. Harvey Kuenn.. .. ..Det... .. .. .. .. ..1956.. .. .. .85
2. Taylor Douthit.. .. St.L... .. .. .. .. .1956.. .. .. .84
(tie) Dom DiMaggio.. ..Bos. .. .. .. .. .. .1948.. .. .. .84
4. Bobby Bonds.. .. .. S.F... .. .. ... .. .1973.. .. .. .83
5. Eddie Joost.. .. .. Phi... .. .. .. .. ..1949.. .. .. .81
6. Tommy Harper.. .. ..Mil.. .. .. .. .. ...1970.. .. .. .81 TC 7. Rip Radcliff.. .. ..Chi... .. .. .. .. ..1936.. .. .. .80
(tie) B. Anderson.. ...Bal... .. .. .. .. ..1992.. .. .. .80
9. Earl Combs.. .. .. .N.Y... .. .. .. .. ..1930.. .. .. .79
(tie) Augie Galan.. .. Chi... .. .. .. .. ..1935.. .. .. .79