CHICAGO -- Orioles reliever Jesse Orosco screamed in agony -- Nooo! -- as soon as he saw Chicago's Lance Johnson hit his fastball toward center field. The line drive, he was sure, was going to get out of the infield and the tying run would score and another great outing by Jamie Moyer would be wasted.
But Orosco forgot about his shortstop, Cal Ripken, who dived headlong to spear the ball to end the eighth inning and save the 2-1 win over the White Sox last night at Comiskey Park.
"I thought the ball was in the outfield," said Orioles manager Phil Regan, "and he caught it behind him."
Orosco said: "That was the game right there."
The Orioles led 2-1 in the bottom of the eighth, when Norberto Martin singled to lead off. After Ozzie Guillen flied out, Regan lifted Moyer after 7 1/3 strong innings, calling on left-hander Orosco.
Tim Raines lined to left for the second out, and the left-handed-hitting Johnson faced Orosco, who fell behind 2-0. With Frank Thomas on deck, Orosco needed to throw a strike to Johnson; he couldn't afford a walk.
Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles called for a fastball, on the outer half of the plate, and standing at shortstop, Ripken saw this, and somewhere in his mind, all the relevant data was processed.
"He's a good fastball hitter," Ripken said later, "and he's more of a pull hitter when he's ahead in the count, so I shaded him more up the middle."
Ripken figured right. Most left-handed singles hitters like Johnson hit outside pitches to left, but Johnson hit Orosco's fastball up the middle.
Ripken said: "The line drive came back at me. I just reacted. When you dive, you never know whether you're going to have a chance. Once I got out there I thought I would get it."
Right again. Out No. 3. Regan would say later what a relief it was that Thomas would lead off the ninth, rather than bat with a runner or runners on base.
The Orioles and White Sox were tied 1-all before the Orioles moved ahead in the eighth. Manny Alexander singled to center to start the inning, and when first baseman Rafael Palmeiro grounded out into the first base hole -- hitting behind the runner -- Alexander advanced to second.
Chicago manager Terry Bevington elected to walk Ripken intentionally. After Regan inserted switch-hitting Kevin Bass to bat for the left-handed-hitting Harold Baines, Bevington called on Jose DeLeon to relieve left-hander Tim Fortugno, and Bass would bat left-handed instead of right-handed.
Didn't matter. He slapped a single to center to score Alexander, giving the Orioles the lead for Moyer.
The left-hander has been the Orioles' best pitcher over the last few weeks. But even as he continued to get outs, beating the Milwaukee Brewers and the Toronto Blue Jays, Moyer conceded that on any given night, he might get hit around and last two or three innings. He depends on savvy and control, relying on finesse; if he doesn't have it, he could get rocked.
So it looked bad in the first inning last night, when Moyer walked leadoff hitter Raines. Johnson singled Raines to second and the two speedsters executed a double steal. Second and third, nobody out, and Frank Thomas at the plate.
The Orioles needed Moyer to pitch deep into the game, needed him to be effective. Their bullpen has been taxed, and they were coming off a monumental disappointment, two losses in a three-game series against Minnesota. They couldn't afford to have him knocked out early.
And he came back. Rather than pitch around Thomas, Moyer pitched to him, and got him to fly out. Raines scored, and Johnson moved to third. Mike Devereaux smashed a grounder into the third base hole, but Jeff Huson dove and gloved the shot -- the play happening so quickly that Johnson couldn't break for home -- and then Huson rose and threw out Devereaux at first (Devereaux failing, of course, to hit the ball to the right side with the infield back, a tendency he had with the Orioles).
John Kruk grounded out, and all things considered, Moyer escaped cheaply. Runners at second and third and no outs and Frank Thomas coming up and only one run in.
From then on, he dominated the White Sox, in his own touchy-feely, curveball-changeup way.
From Thomas' at-bat in the first inning through the seventh inning, the White Sox had three hits and no walks.
After Moyer held Milwaukee hitless for the first 5 2/3 innings last week, somebody asked pitching coach Mike Flanagan about how Moyer was getting anybody out. Flanagan went on to describe how the left-hander had improved his breaking pitch, how he was spotting his changeup so well.
His questioner responded with an expression of skepticism; Moyer's game against the Brewers seemed like a fluke at the time.
"I'm not lying to you," Flanagan said. "He's really pitching well. I really believe in him."
When Moyer left after 7 1/3 innings, the Comiskey Park crowd cheered him politely, and he responded in kind with a slight, modest tip of his cap.
The White Sox had drawn first blood against Moyer, but the Orioles tied the score at 1-all in the fifth inning. Huson had singled, and Hoiles followed with a double over the head of left fielder Raines -- one of three hits on the night by the slump-ridden catcher. Then Curtis Goodwin scored Huson with a fly ball.
Opponent: Chicago White Sox
Site: Comiskey Park, Chicago
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Rick Krivda (major-league debut) vs. White Sox's Jim Abbott (4-3, 3.28)