That was the day that everything changed.
General manager Pat Gillick wondered aloud this week whether the nucleus of this team knew how to win, and the veteran nucleus answered back loud and clear with one of the most dramatic victories in club history.
Catcher Chris Hoiles hit a two-out grand slam in the ninth inning to carry the Orioles to a 14-13 victory over the Seattle Mariners before a crowd of 47,529, the largest to see a game at Camden Yards this year.
He didn't do it alone. First baseman Rafael Palmeiro had five hits and drove in a career-high six runs. Cal Ripken had four hits and a big home run. Roberto Alomar, who isn't a holdover from the old Orioles nucleus, joined in anyway, with a 3-for-4 performance that boosted him into the American League batting lead at .387.
"We did a great job scoring runs when we had to," said Hoiles. "The next thing we knew, the unbelievable happened."
How unbelievable? The Orioles appeared to be on their way to one of the most devastating defeats of the season when Mariners rookie Alex Rodriguez hit an eighth-inning grand slam off reliever Alan Mills and Jay Buhner added a two-run shot off Mills in the ninth.
That left the Orioles down by three in a game they had led throughout, but Alomar led off the bottom of the ninth with a walk from Mariners closer Norm Charlton and Bobby Bonilla doubled. Ripken walked to load the bases with two outs and Hoiles launched a full-count forkball into the left-field bleachers to turn anguish into adulation.
"There were 80 hits out there and I was the only guy without one," said Hoiles, who made up for that with the 21st Orioles hit. "I just wanted to drive in a couple of runs and give [Jeffrey] Hammonds a chance."
Hammonds was happy to watch the ball fly out of the park, and he wasn't alone. The Orioles bounded out of the dugout like a team that had just won the World Series, though in reality, they had just won a measure of self-respect after a difficult month in which everyone from the fans to the front office questioned their mettle.
"It's one of the greatest feelings ever," Hoiles said. "When you're coming around third and just seeing everybody standing there. Especially in a game like this when you're up 7-2 and they come back and hit that grand slam off Millsy. To be able to come back in the bottom of the ninth, it was just a great feeling."
Mills, who like many pitchers on this 41-hit night had struggled with Chuck Meriwether's rather limited strike zone, hung his head in disgust when he left the mound in the ninth inning, but he ended up with his first victory since last May 27.
So much had gone wrong and it somehow turned out so right.
Starting pitcher Jimmy Haynes was handed seven runs in the first three innings, but expended so much energy dodging Mariners hits that he barely lasted five innings.
Dependable middle reliever Arthur Rhodes gave up four runs without recording an out in the sixth as the Mariners fought their way back into the game.
The Orioles committed two costly errors in the sixth and another in the Mariners' five-run eighth.
It would have been a terrible game to waste. Palmeiro had three singles, a double and his eighth home run to go with the best run-production night of his career. He has been on a major roll since the Orioles left Milwaukee, driving in four runs in the series finale at County Stadium and four more in the two-game series against Oakland.
Ripken also is busting out. His home run provided an emotional lift in the eighth and his four hits raised his average to .261. Palmeiro raised his average from .255 to .279.
The 41 hits broke both the Orioles and Mariners club records for total hits in a nine-inning game.
"This American League baseball has got me dumbfounded," manager Davey Johnson said. "I thought I'd seen just about everything -- 20 runs, 40 hits, football scores -- but this is the most unbelievable thing I've seen in my life."
No doubt, they felt the same way in the Mariners' clubhouse, but Charlton made no excuse for the final forkball.
"You live by the sword, you die by the sword," Charlton said. "He hit it out of the park. That's not what beat me. The walks to Alomar and Ripken, that's what beat me. We played a great game. We came from behind and had the game won. That's ridiculous. I screwed up."
The Mariners found Haynes very hittable. He gave up seven hits through the first three innings and needed a spectacular play by Alomar with the bases loaded in the third to keep the Mariners from erasing an early four-run deficit. But the Orioles were busy ,, mopping up on a Seattle pitching staff that clearly misses injured left-hander Randy Johnson.
Johnson would have been the starter last night, but he was placed on the disabled list Tuesday with continued soreness in his lower back.
Piniella was prophetic when he laid out his tentative pitching plans earlier this week.
"I know one thing," he said. "Whoever replaces Randy won't be Randy."
Last night's replacement, right-hander Bob Wolcott, didn't waste any time proving the accuracy of that statement. Brady Anderson opened the first inning with a double down the right-field line and designated hitter Luis Polonia lined his first home run as an Oriole onto the flag court to give the Orioles a quick two-run lead.
They added two more runs in the second when Palmeiro came up just inches short of his eighth home run. He had to settle for a two-run double when the ball bounced off the padding atop the (( grounds crew shed in right field and was ruled still in play by second base umpire Larry McCoy.
Haynes allowed four of the first five batters to hit safely in the third inning as the Mariners broke through for two runs on a single by Edgar Martinez. Seattle would load the bases later in that inning and again in the fifth, but they would get no closer until they rallied for four runs in the sixth.
The Orioles knocked Wolcott out with a couple of hits in the third, then temporarily broke the game open against reliever Bob Wells, whose back-to-back walks with two outs pushed in a run before Palmeiro's two-run single stretched the lead to 7-2.
That's where Haynes left it. He pitched five innings and gave up two runs on eight hits, three walks and a hit batsman. But Rhodes took over in the sixth and quickly rekindled the suspense. Then came Roger McDowell, who gave up six hits in 2 1/3 innings, then Mills, who is just back from rehabilitating a shoulder injury.
"I felt bad coming in and giving up all those runs," said Mills. "Jimmy pitched well enough to get a win. I came in and gave up a lot of other people's runs. I'm not happy. I'm happy that we won. That's the most important thing, but as far as my individual performance is concerned, I'm disappointed with that."
Opponent: Seattle Mariners
Site: Oriole Park
Time: 7: 35
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Mariners' Bob Milacki (first start of '96) vs. Orioles' Kent Mercker (2-2, 7.63)
Tickets: 400 remain
The late show
The Orioles have been involved in four of the longest nine-inning games in major-league history:
Time .. .. .. ..Teams .. .. .. .. .. .. ...Date
4: 21 .. .. ..N.Y. Yankees .. .. .. .. .4-30-96
.. .. .. .. ..vs. Orioles
4: 20 .. .. ..Seattle vs. .. .. .. .. ..5-17-96
.. .. .. .. ..Orioles
4: 18 .. .. ..Los Angeles .. .. .. .. ..10-2-62
.. .. .. .. ..vs. San Fran.
4: 16 .. .. ..Orioles vs. .. .. .. .. ...6-8-86
.. .. .. .. ..N.Y. Yankees
4: 15 .. .. ..Orioles vs. .. .. .. .. ..4-19-96
.. .. .. .. ..Texas
4: 12 .. .. ..Toronto vs. .. .. .. ....9-15-93
.. .. .. .. ..Detroit
Pub Date: 5/18/96