It isn't often that Tony Phillips can surprise Sparky Anderson, but he succeeded last night.
On a night that proved to be good for starters, but on the ugly side for finishers, Phillips was an unlikely hero in the Detroit Tigers' 5-3, 11-inning win over the Orioles. Unlikely, only because of the manner in which he went about getting the job done.
After pinch hitter Lou Whitaker had drawn a ninth-inning leadoff walk, Phillips hammered a 3-and-2 pitch from Lee Smith into the right-center-field seats to erase a 2-0 lead and force extra innings.
"He had to throw the ball over the plate and I hit it out," said Phillips, who also had two singles and a walk in six plate appearances. "That's not something I do often. That's not me."
It wasn't so much that Phillips hit a home run, but where he hit it, that surprised Anderson. "You don't expect him to hit a home run," said the Tigers manager, "and I certainly didn't think he could pull him [Smith] and hit it out.
"They [the Orioles] are ahead 2-0, and you're almost yawning in the dugout because you think it's over. Especially against that guy [Smith], he's been almost invincible."
It was only the second blown save in 22 opportunities this season for baseball's all-time saves leader (421). But from the outset of his one-inning tenure on the mound, Smith appeared to be struggling with his generally pinpoint control.
"I thought he looked fine," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "He just missed with a 3-and-2 pitch [to Whitaker]. He was in a position where he didn't want to walk him and Tony got a pitch he could hit."
The home run by Phillips negated an effective effort by starter Jamie Moyer and relievers Mark Williamson and Alan Mills and also kept the Orioles from registering their first shutout. The Tigers are the only other team in the major leagues that hasn't blanked an opponent.
"The guy's been outstanding all year," Moyer said of Smith. "Those things are going to happen. Tomorrow's another day, and he'll end up saving 20 or 30 more."
Smith was the first reliever to allow a run last night, but he wasn't the only one who struggled in the late innings.
After Phillips' homer tied the game, the Tigers' Mike Henneman flirted with defeat when the Orioles loaded the bases with one out in the bottom half of the ninth inning. He averted disaster by striking out Tim Hulett and watching Kirk Gibson run down Brady Anderson's drive.
Ex-Oriole Mickey Tettleton greeted Tom Bolton, Smith's 10th-inning replacement, with his eighth homer of the year, to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead. It lasted only until Kurt Knudsen faced his second batter since being recalled from Triple-A.
Rafael Palmeiro's 11th homer re-tied the game, but that advantage also was short-lived. A single by Chris Gomez, his third of the night, and a double by Travis Fryman made it 4-3 and another single by Chad Kreuter provided an insurance run. Bolton (0-1) got the loss, with Knudsen emerging with a somewhat tainted win. Joe Boever, who worked the 11th, got his first save.
rTC Before the late-inning dramatics scattered a record Camden Yards crowd of 47,851, Moyer, Williamson and Mills had performed an escape act for most of the evening.
For his second straight start, Moyer had to overcome an early lapse of control. Once he recovered, the crafty left-hander went on to space seven hits over 6 2/3 innings.
The Orioles scored their first two runs in the fifth inning, on an RBI single by Mark McLemore and a sacrifice fly by Hulett. That was almost, but not quite, enough to give them their first win over John Doherty.
When Smith walked Whitaker before giving up Phillips' home run, Doherty's 4-0 lifetime record against the Orioles was preserved.
Moyer began the game in much the same fashion as his most recent start in Milwaukee, when he went eight innings in a 6-3 win. In that game, Moyer started by issuing walks to the first two batters before a double play got him out of trouble.
Last night Moyer failed to throw a first-pitch strike to any of the initial six hitters he faced. But he squirmed out of the full-count-laden inning, getting Cecil Fielder to pop out and Alan Trammell and Fryman to strike out with two men on.
An inning later, Moyer's control returned and he settled into a groove.
While the Tigers had trouble solving Moyer in the early innings, the Orioles were having no more luck against Doherty, who faced only 13 batters through four innings.
But Cal Ripken led off the fifth with a single and went to second on Leo Gomez's groundout. Ripken had to hold his ground and stopped at third when Chris Hoiles grounded a single just out of Trammell's reach at shortstop, but McLemore drilled a single to right to score the game's first run.
Hoiles went to third on the play and scored on Hulett's sacrifice fly. Anderson, who had extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a first-inning single, was then given an intentional walk and Mike Devereaux accepted an unintentional one to load the bases before Doherty got Palmeiro on a grounder.
When the Tigers followed a two-hit sixth inning with more menacing gestures in the seventh, Oates made his first move to the bullpen. With two outs, Phillips grounded a single to left and Gomez drew a walk, bringing Fryman to the plate with the potential go-ahead run.
Fryman had struck out twice and walked, but Oates didn't want to risk giving him a fourth look at Moyer. Williamson was summoned and Fryman lined to McLemore in right field to end the inning.