NEW YORK -- The Orioles had reached that frustrating, discouraging point in the evening when the only thing left to wonder was what could go wrong next. Rick Sutcliffe had just let a five-run lead get away. There seemed like little else to do but accept the complete and utter hopelessness of it all.
That's when shortstop Cal Ripken finally took charge, restoring order with a leadoff home run in the seventh inning that helped propel the Orioles to an 8-6 victory in the opener of a four-game series at Yankee Stadium.
Ripken, whose diminishing power has been a matter of concern the past few weeks, homered for the second time in three games to break a 6-6 tie and give the Orioles a tremendous emotional lift.
Talk about a mood swing. Three days into his new, straight-up stance, Ripken appears to have found something to hang his bat on. He came out of his crouch over the weekend and has started to put a charge into the ball again.
Yankees first baseman Kevin Maas had dealt the Orioles a stunning blow just minutes earlier, when his second home run of the game completed a five-run, middle-inning comeback that took starting pitcher Jim Abbott off the hook for a poor 4 2/3 -inning performance.
Sutcliffe had given up just an unearned run on three hits through the first four innings, but Maas homered to lead off the fifth and hit a three-run shot with two outs in the sixth to tie the game. He had, almost singlehandedly, negated a six-run Orioles rally in the fifth that included a tie-breaking two-run single by Mark McLemore and a seemingly game-breaking three-run homer by Chris Hoiles.
If the Orioles ever needed a little on-field leadership, this was it. Ripken responded with his fourth home run and the Orioles added an insurance run in the eighth to carry Sutcliffe to his fifth victory of the year.
"When something like that happens, you can't drop your shoulders," Ripken said. "You say we're back to an even chance to win and it's just a shorter game. That [the home run] enabled us to jump back on top. In that sense, it was big."
It could have been an even bigger offensive performance for Ripken, who also had a single in five at-bats. He hit two sharp ground balls over second base, but the Yankees had second baseman Pat Kelly positioned right behind the bag. Otherwise, it might have been a four-hit game.
It was very big for Sutcliffe, who gave up six runs (five earned) and seven hits over six innings, but benefited from a season-high 15-hit performance to improve his record to 5-2. He got two hitless innings of relief from left-hander Jim Poole and a scoreless ninth from closer Gregg Olson, who recorded his ninth save.
"Up until the fifth inning, everything was in order," Sutcliffe said. "But for some reason, I locked [stiffened] up and I wasn't the same pitcher. The frustrating thing is that we got six runs and it would have been nice to have a laugher.
"I'm going to take it as a positive. They picked me up. Now, it's my turn to bust my butt over the next four days and be in position to pick them up the next time."
Sutcliffe came in with a string of three solid starts in which he was 2-0 with a 3.10 ERA. He carried a shutout into the eighth inning against Cleveland his last time out, but a leadoff double by Dion James and a passed ball by Hoiles helped the Yankees jump out in front with an unearned run in the first inning.
The way things have been going, it took no stretch of the imagination to wonder if one run was all it would take to send the Orioles to their fourth loss in five games and their ninth defeat in 13 games.
Abbott may have come in with a 3-5 record, but he remains one of the top left-handers in the game, and the Orioles have been beguiled by a number of lesser pitchers.
They certainly showed him some respect in the fourth inning, when two Orioles were made to pay for their over-aggressiveness on the bases. Ripken easily was thrown out attempting to score from first base on a double by Hoiles. On the next play, Yankees left fielder Paul O'Neill picked up a single by Sherman Obando and made a perfect throw to get Hoiles at the plate.
It was obvious the Orioles were trying to press the action, but third-base coach Mike Ferraro's decision to send Ripken seemed ill-advised -- especially after right fielder Danny Tartabull did a good job of cutting off Hoiles' double in the gap. Ferraro did not back off on the two-out single by Obando, but O'Neill's strong throw made it a very tough inning to be in the coaching box.
Following the club's lackluster performance on Sunday at Camden Yards, it looked like the kind of inning that might tear the heart out of a team, but it apparently had the opposite effect. The Orioles came right back to score six times in the fifth and equal their biggest single-inning output of the year.
"If I'd known we were going to score eight runs, I wouldn't have taken so many chances," Ferraro said. "I was just trying to make things happen, but I guess if I had it to do over again, I probably wouldn't have sent them."
Abbott, who couldn't buy a break a year ago and has had more than his share of tough luck this season, could not curse the fates last night. He gave up 12 hits in 4 2/3 innings, nine of them in a span of 12 batters. This time, he was very lucky, because he eventually got off the hook.
Abbott will be even luckier if he never faces Hoiles again. The Orioles catcher went 3-for-3 against him and is batting an astonishing .818 lifetime with nine hits in 11 at-bats.