TORONTO -- Anything's possible. That's what Rafael Palmeiro said to Orioles third base coach Steve Boros in the ninth inning yesterday. The words rung hollow at the moment, the Orioles trailing 7-3.
But nobody, not Palmeiro or Jeanne Dixon, would've imagined what was to come. Two errors by Toronto. A base-running error that went unnoticed by the Blue Jays. A game-winning hit by Manny Alexander that could've been precluded had a woman not walked into the SkyDome Hotel with a loaded pistol and threatened to kill Blue Jays second baseman Roberto Alomar.
And so the Orioles, who trailed by seven in the eighth inning, scored seven runs in the ninth to beat the Blue Jays, 9-7. With the comeback, a solid 4-3 road trip turned into a great 5-2 road trip and was a bit of a payback. Since the final series of 1989, the Blue Jays have beaten the Orioles in the last at-bat 14 times, including 11 at SkyDome.
"That's what's so good about baseball," said Palmeiro. "If it was basketball or football, and there was a minute to go, it would've been over."
It should've been over. Blue Jays pitcher Woody Williams dominated the Orioles for 7 2/3 innings. Harold Baines doubled with one out in the second and the Orioles didn't get another hit until Kevin Bass singled to lead off the eighth inning. By then, Toronto led 7-0, and all that was left was the formality of the last six outs.
Orioles rookie Greg Zaun hit his first major-league homer one out after Bass' single. Williams retired Curtis Goodwin for the second out before being relieved by Danny Cox.
Williams walked off the field to a standing ovation. Oh, Canada. In the Orioles dugout, there was a sense of relief, Palmeiro said later. Not necessarily because they felt they had a chance to win, but because Williams was throwing so well.
As the ninth inning started, rookie Tomas Perez ran out to shortstop, and Domingo Cedeno moved to second, replacing Alomar. What everybody on the field assumed was that Perez was just giving Alomar a one-inning rest. In actuality, Alomar was being taken off the field to be told that during the fifth inning, a woman carrying a loaded pistol had been arrested in the SkyDome Hotel after saying she would kill Alomar.
Alexander opened the ninth inning with a line drive that creeped over the left-field wall. The Orioles were within four runs, within one swing of the bat, if they somehow loaded the bases.
"Hey, you never know!" hitting coach Lee May yelled.
Palmeiro grounded a single to right, and Cal Ripken whacked another hit that way, Palmeiro speeding to third. Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston relieved Cox with rookie left-hander Ricardo Jordan.
Palmeiro, waiting out the change, leaned over to Boros and said, "Anything's possible."
The Orioles still had a long way to go, however. Their hopes flickered: Pinch hitter Jeffrey Hammonds lined out to left to score Palmeiro, but three runs down, they needed hits. Bass struck out. Two down.
Leo Gomez was announced as a pinch hitter for Jeff Huson, and Gaston trudged out to the mound again. There were a smattering of boos as he called on Tim Crabtree. Those fans might've known that the right-hander had a 5.40 ERA for Triple-A Syracuse before being called up June 23.
Regan called back Gomez and inserted switch-hitter Bret Barberie. Barberie had lost his job to Alexander early this month, but Regan had been giving him occasional appearances to keep him sharp. Just in case.
Barberie was the Orioles' designated hitter Saturday, and, he would say later, those four at-bats made him feel much more comfortable as he batted against Crabtree.
Barberie hit a low fastball back up the middle, past Crabtree, and Ripken moved to second. Zaun moved toward the batter's box, but a voice from behind him called out. Regan wanted Chris Hoiles, who had hit a pinch-hit homer Friday, to bat. Orioles closer Doug Jones, who had started throwing in the bullpen after Ripken's hit, began throwing a little harder. Just in case.
Hoiles walked to the plate as the potential tying run, and the
Orioles needed a homer. What they got was a high fly ball, down the right-field line, high enough that Shawn Green didn't need to sprint to reach it.
The ball, however, didn't go into his glove; it bounced off it. Ripken and Barberie scored, Hoiles hustled to second, and Regan, Curtis Goodwin and Alexander said later, this was the instant that they felt they were going to win.
"I just took my eye off it," Green said. Elementary.
Crabtree, by this time, was in serious jeopardy. "I think he got a little shaky," said Goodwin, and Blue Jays pitching coach Galen Cisco counseled the rookie at the mound.
Hoiles, the potential tying run, led off second, and when Goodwin slapped a ball toward the shortstop hole, Hoiles broke for third instinctively, because there were two outs. But he realized, two or three steps toward third, that because of Goodwin's speed, the Toronto shortstop might throw to third. Boros thought the same thing at the same time, and was ready to tell Hoiles to slide.
However, the Toronto shortstop was Perez, and not the more experienced Cedeno, who had moved over to second when Alomar was pulled. Perez glanced at third, planted -- and fired to first. Hoiles, Boros would say later, would've been a sure out at third if Perez had thrown there.
As it was, Perez's throw went high. First baseman John Olerud, his foot on the bag, leaped, and as he went into the air, Goodwin's lead foot stamped on the bag, Olerud landing just afterward. Bang-bang. Safe.
Crabtree was pitching uphill now, falling behind Brady Anderson before walking him to load the bases.
Veteran Danny Darwin started warming in the Toronto bullpen, far too late to help now. "It was like they ran out of pitchers," Barberie said. Tying run on third, lead run on second, Alexander at the plate.
The Orioles' coaching staff wanted Alexander to understand game situations better. Play the count. Know what is happening.
Alexander said later he realized this: Crabtree was a rookie who was struggling and couldn't afford to walk in the tying run. Alexander figured, then, that he would get nothing but fastballs.
He did -- and lashed a single up the middle. Hoiles rambled home, and Goodwin, on second, saw the ball bounce past Crabtree and knew that he would score and the Orioles would lead.
Crabtree, frazzled, skipped a wild pitch high off the glove of catcher Angel Martinez to score Anderson, capping the comeback and marking the first time the Blue Jays ever had given up seven runs in the ninth inning.
Jones shut down the Blue Jays in the bottom of the ninth for his 12th save. Afterward, some of the Orioles in the dugout ran onto the field to celebrate, Zaun in the lead; it was as if a bench-clearing brawl had broken out. Except there were handshakes all around, instead of punches.
"Any time you can come up with seven runs in the ninth inning," Hoiles said, "and win, that's pretty impressive."
Impressive. Absurd. But as Rafael Palmeiro said, in baseball, anything's possible.
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Twins' Kevin Tapani (4-8, 4.56) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (7-5, 4.54)
Tickets: 5,600 remain