If there is a curse that follows Johnny Oates, it has a name. Leo Gomez.
Then last night, Gomez, in the midst of what has been a horrible season for him, hit a homer and a ninth-inning double that helped beat the Texas Rangers -- the team Oates manages -- 4-3. Bret Barberie's bases-loaded blooper with two out in the ninth scored Harold Baines, the Orioles' first sudden-death win at home since July 9, 1994.
The Rangers, who had one hit in their last 15 at-bats with runners on last night, have lost nine straight.
The Orioles had tied the game in the bottom of the seventh, and Gomez, leading off the bottom of the ninth, drove a double into the right-center-field gap, beating a shift of the Texas outfield.
Gomez acknowledged the irony of beating his former manager. "I didn't want to put pressure on myself," he said. "I just wanted to go up there relaxed. I wanted to help us win the game."
Jeff Huson pinch-ran for Gomez. Pinch hitter Baines was walked intentionally, and both runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Greg Zaun.
Mark Smith was walked intentionally, and reliever Ed Vosberg got Brady Anderson to ground to first; Will Clark threw home for a force, the second out of the inning.
Vosberg got ahead of Barberie one ball and two strikes, then zipped a fastball inside. Barberie heard someone yell "STRIKE THREE!" and, for an instant, he thought he had been called out by home plate umpire Dan Morrison.
Actually, it was Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez. Morrison disagreed, calling the pitch ball two, and Vosberg stared in at Morrison.
Then Barberie hit a blooper to short center. The Orioles on the bench, manager Phil Regan said afterward, started yelling, "Be a flare! Be a Scud!"
Regan said: "We were hoping it was."
It was. The ball fell between two outfielders and two infielders. Rangers shortstop Esteban Beltre, the only one who had a chance, running with his back to home plate, appeared to pull up, perhaps wary of a potential collision.
"I think Esteban could've caught the ball if he kept going," Oates said. "He pulled up right before he got to it."
The Rangers had taken an early 3-1 lead.
Juan Gonzalez lined a single to left to open the second inning, and as Mickey Tettleton waited patiently, his bat held back almost parallel to the ground, Orioles starter Scott Erickson fell behind two balls and nostrikes.
Erickson tried throwing a fastball past Tettleton, but the pitch drifted over the middle of the plate, perhaps a little higher than Erickson intended. Boom: Tettleton blasted a two-run homer over the right-field wall.
The Orioles cut the lead in half in the bottom of the second; Gomez, also ahead on the count, lifted a fly ball to left. In Yankee Stadium, an easy out. In Dodger Stadium, not even close. In Camden Yards, a home run, the third of the year for Gomez -- all after the All-Star break.
Leading off the third, Rangers center fielder Otis Nixon pulled a bunt about 20 feet in front of home plate, an average bunt unless you can run like Nixon. For him, this was an easy hit. Nixon bolted for second with Mark McLemore at the plate, a solid jump. The throw from Zaun was late and tailed to the first base side of second, and Barberie failed to catch the ball as he leaped to avoid the sliding Nixon. As the ball skipped into short center, Nixon got up and hustled to third.
Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro came in a couple of steps with the runner at third and nobody out, so that when McLemore slapped a chopper to first, Palmeiro gloved it and glared at Nixon, freezing the runner at third before stepping on first.
The Orioles' infield came in all the way around, and Erickson got two strikes on Rangers first baseman Will Clark, who then lifted a high foul fly well down the left-field line. Brady Anderson charged toward the stands and reached up to take the ball away from a couple of glove-wielding fans, who nudged him as he turned and fired toward home, far too late to catch Nixon at home.
(Some managers would argue, in that situation, that it would be preferable to let the ball drop and give Erickson a chance to retire Clark without letting the run score.)
Shortstop Cal Ripken and Regan joined Anderson in arguing with third base umpire Greg Kosc that the fans had impeded Anderson's throw home, but Kosc would have none of it. The Rangers led 3-1.
The Orioles got a run that never should've been in the third. Two outs, and Barberie walked. Rangers starter Kenny Rogers bounced a pitch in the dirt that skipped up Rodriguez's arm, and Barberie scampered into scoring position. Palmeiro hit a slow roller through the right side of the infield, and when the outfield grass seized the ball, right fielder Tettleton had no shot at keeping Barberie from scoring.
The Rangers had two shots to bury the Orioles in the sixth and seventh: In both innings, the first two Texas hitters reached base. But the sixth-inning rally caved in when McLemore was cut down trying to steal third, and in the seventh, relievers Mark Lee and Terry Clark retired three straight hitters with runners at first and second.
The Orioles took advantage of the reprieves in the bottom of the seventh, tying the score at 3-all. Zaun walked with one out, and Regan called back slumping rookie center fielder Curtis Goodwin -- hitless in 11 straight at-bats -- and batted Smith instead.
Smith, crouched low in his stance, golfed a low pitch to dead center, and Nixon broke back on the dead run. But he wasn't fast enough to catch Smith's drive, which bounced off the warning track and over the wall, a ground-rule double.
Leading by a run, Oates elected to play the infield back, a decision that cost Texas when Anderson hit a weak grounder to second. McLemore could do nothing but watch helplessly as Zaun scored, throwing out Anderson at first. A powerful, off-balance throw by Rangers shortstop Benji Gil nipped Barberie to end the inning, preventing another run.
HITS AND MISSES
On the field: Texas starter Kenny Rogers was pitching on three days' rest for the first time this season. Rogers had been knocked out early in his last start against the New York Yankees; on July 21, he allowed six hits, three walks and four runs in 4 1/3 innings.
In the dugout: In the first two months of the year, the Orioles lineup was strong against left-handers. But because of the recent injuries, their starting nine included three left-handed hitters. Leadoff hitter Brady Anderson went into last night's game with a .212 average against lefties, and No. 2 hitter Bret Barberie, a switch-hitter, had a .186 average vs. lefties.
In the clubhouse: The Rangers had one hit in their last 15 at-bats with runners on base. "We had first and second in the sixth and seventh and a runner on first in the eighth and we didn't score any runs. That was the difference right there." -- Texas manager Johnny Oates.