All of the Yankees and Orioles on the field squinted to see through the rain in the sixth inning last night, and although there were still three innings to go, in theory, everybody knew the game could not last.
So they played the sixth inning as if it were the last, Orioles manager Phil Regan bunting and using pinch hitters in an effort to come from behind, Yankees manager Buck Showalter going to his bullpen twice to protect the lead. The Orioles, down 6-5, loaded the bases with two outs and Bobby Bonilla worked the count full before striking out.
Then the umpires called for the tarp, the rain continued to fall, those left from a crowd of 46,891 at Oriole Park scurried for cover, and the game was called after a short delay, the premature 6-5 score becoming final.
The Yankees, after knocking out Mike Mussina in the fifth, carried a 5-4 lead into the sixth inning. With two outs, Bernie Williams slammed a homer off reliever Jamie Moyer into the right-center-field seats, a run that would turn out to be very important.
The downpour, steady even as the game began, had worsened, sprinkles turning into sheets of rain. Players kicked at the top steps of the dugout when they came off the field, trying to clear their spikes of mud.
"It was wet," said Mussina. "That's my quote for the night. It was wet."
The cap brims of those on the field dripped, saturated, and batting helmets shined under the waterfall. As the wet spots around the infield darkened, the chances of nine full innings being played were diminishing, and the Orioles, down by two runs, came to bat in the bottom of the sixth with a sense of urgency.
"I really thought they would stop it if we went ahead in the sixth, or if we were behind," Regan said. "The field was getting really muddy. It was pretty wet."
Chris Hoiles ripped a double off Jack McDowell into left-center field, past the dive of Williams. Mark Smith singled to short center and Hoiles scored, his eyes narrowed as he ran home through the rain.
Showalter went to the mound, where McDowell was bent over, in pain from a muscle strain in his back. The manager called for left-hander Bob MacDonald.
Bret Barberie bunted Smith to second. Regan usually doesn't employ pinch hitters until the seventh or eighth inning, but with the rain picking up, he needed that tying run now, before the end of the sixth, when umpires would be tempted to stop the game.
Kevin Bass batted for Curtis Goodwin, and he hit a high fly to left. Not far enough. Two outs. MacDonald kept the Orioles' rally alive, though, by walking Brady Anderson and Rafael Palmeiro, loading the bases. The crowd roared, and Showalter sprinted to the mound, calling for right-handed reliever Bob Wickman along the way.
As Wickman warmed up, Bonilla waited in the runway to the clubhouse, trying to keep warm. When he did emerge from the dugout and stood in the box, he looked at Wickman through a stream of rain drops.
He fell behind in the count, fought back, taking a 2-2 pitch out of the strike zone. The runners would be moving. The grounds crew stood behind the roll of tarp down the right-field line, poised to make its move.
Bonilla swung and missed, and even before he had dropped his bat, umpire Rich Garcia had waved for the tarp. After waiting for more than an hour, he ended the game that had started as a duel between aces Mussina and McDowell and turned into a mud wrestle.
"I thought it was just a tough night to pitch," Regan said. "The mound was getting slippery. Your spikes are full of dirt, and mud, and it's just tough to play."
The Stanford alumni had pitched against each other Aug. 7 in one of the best matchups of the season. Mussina, McDowell would acknowledge later, had the better stuff that night; it seemed as if he was throwing about 100 mph, McDowell said. However, a blown call by a base umpire and a throwing error by Mussina allowed New York three runs in the seventh inning, and McDowell won, 3-0.
Neither pitcher threw with the same sort of mastery last night. McDowell pitched well for the first couple of innings, before he stopped hitting the edges of the plate. Mussina was throwing hard, consistently around 90 mph on the Orioles' radar, but he couldn't throw his curveballs for strikes, reducing his arsenal to fastballs and changeups, making it hard for him to finish off hitters once he got to a two-strike count. He threw 25 pitches in the first inning, and as the fifth inning neared, he already was closing in on 100 pitches.
Each would suffer a rare beating, and each would suffer it in the fifth inning.
The Orioles led 1-0, when Randy Velarde singled leading off the fifth for New York. Wade Boggs fell behind 0-2 before fouling off four two-strike pitches before looping a base hit over shortstop Cal Ripken.
Bernie Williams, too, fouled off a two-strike pitch before lining a singling up the middle, to load the bases. Paul O'Neill hit an infield popup on the first pitch, which appeared to be a big out for Mussina; O'Neill must have thought so, too, because he mashed his helmet against the side of the Yankees' dugout.
Ruben Sierra popped up as well, toward right. Second baseman Bret Barberie ran out, trying to pick up the ball over his shoulder, his route uncertain. Center fielder Goodwin raced in, right fielder Smith, too. Barberie, Goodwin, Smith, all running to surround the spot where the ball dropped.
One run scored, and there was more to come: A single by Dion James, a sacrifice fly by Mike Stanley -- Goodwin missing the cut-off man and allowing James to advance to second -- and a ground-rule double by Mike Stanley that scored two runs. Moyer relieved Mussina, whose slim chances for a 20-win season were gone.
But in the bottom of the fifth, Barberie singled with one out. Goodwin hit a hard grounder up the middle, a single. Then Anderson cued a roller past McDowell, the ball nearly dying in the grass behind the mound before fighting its way into the outfield. Barberie scored, and Goodwin scurried into third.
Left-hander MacDonald started warming up in the Yankees' bullpen. Palmeiro flied to right, scoring Goodwin. Anderson stole second and scored when Bonilla lined a single to left. Ripken reached when Stanley dropped a third strike, but the inning ended with the Orioles trailing 5-4 after McDowell struck out Orioles designated hitter Harold Baines on three pitches.
Members of the grounds crew ran onto the field immediately after Baines swung and missed, and they began dumping the sand-like drying compound around the infield. The rain worsened, but umpire Rich Garcia, the crew chief charged with the responsibility of deciding when to call for the tarp, let them play one more inning, one last chance for the Orioles.
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Time: 1:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Yankees' Scott Kamieniecki (5-5, 5.00) vs. Orioles' Kevin Brown (7-9, 3.93)
Tickets: 500 remain
HITS AND MISSES
On the field: Bernie Williams broke from first on a hit-and-run in the first inning, but Paul O'Neill never swung and Williams slid into second safely, ahead of a poor throw by Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles. Williams' stolen base was only the fourth this year against Mike Mussina, whose exceptional ability to hold runners has held opponents to just seven attempts this season.
In the dugout: After Randy Velarde singled to open the fifth inning for the Yankees, the Orioles looked for a bunt from Wade Boggs, who has been bothered by a sore hamstring. Boggs swung away, after a prolonged battle with Mussina, and singled over shortstop. The Orioles again looked for a bunt, from Williams, but again Yankees manager Buck Showalter allowed his guy to swing. Williams singled, loading the bases and setting up a big inning that finished off Mussina. "That was a no-brainer," Showalter said. "Bernie is as hot a batter as there is in baseball right now. Mussina's one of the best athletes in the AL. It was not certain you're going to get [the runners] over."
In the clubhouse: Orioles pitching coach Mike Flanagan on when he knew the game might be stopped on account of rain: "When they had the windshield wipers going on the helmets, that's a giveaway."