NEW YORK -- Tired of watching his team get hammered, Orioles manager Davey Johnson juggled his lineup last night, and the big changes in the Big Apple paid off immediately.
Roberto Alomar, who supplanted Brady Anderson in the leadoff spot, had three hits and scored three runs, including the run that broke a 4-4 tie in the ninth. Cal Ripken drove home the lead run and Rafael Palmeiro hit his second two-run homer of the game, propelling the Orioles to a 7-4 victory, making a loser of New York reliever Mariano Rivera and a winner of Arthur Rhodes, now 9-0.
The Orioles ended a three-game skid and drew closer to the first-place Yankees.
"It was a big win," said Palmeiro. "It gets us back to 4 1/2 games, and we have a chance to leave here 2 1/2 out. We'll see what happens."
Rivera relieved Dwight Gooden in the seventh, and held the Orioles scoreless for two innings. But Alomar singled leading off the ninth. He moved to second on a groundout, and scored when Ripken singled for his third RBI.
Palmeiro followed with a long blast to right, his 20th homer of the year.
"It was a pretty good lineup change, wasn't it?" Johnson said.
The Orioles' pre-game activity usually consists of batting and fielding practice. Not yesterday. It began with Johnson summoning the media into his office and telling them that he had radically shifted his lineup, switching major-league home run leader Anderson to the second spot and moving Alomar to leadoff, in an attempt to jar the club out of its 2-month-old stupor.
If the change is permanent, Anderson will lose his chance to surpass a handful of records for leadoff hitters -- for homers in a single season, for RBIs, for homers to start a game. Johnson said that when he first informed Anderson of his plans, Anderson looked unhappy. "I know Brady thinks it's terrible," Johnson said.
Johnson left his hotel room phone number with Anderson, in case the center fielder wanted to talk. But after Anderson arrived vTC at Yankee Stadium yesterday afternoon, he said he had no problem with the changes. Alomar endorsed the moves, saying it would allow him to run more.
What no Orioles player knew, as last night's game began, was that owner Peter Angelos had challenged Ripken's suggestion that the players' unfamiliarity with each other and Johnson had contributed to their slow start.
All of that swirled around the Orioles as Alomar, and not Anderson, led off against Gooden last night, in an incredible, charged atmosphere at Yankee Stadium. Baseball in June, played with October emotions.
When Ripken broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games record last Sept. 6, the feelings in the air were generated from the heart. The emotions of the Yankees fans last night, stirred by the stadium organ, were strictly visceral. Johnson managed as if he were trying to survive in the World Series, and Yankee Stadium raised a wall of sound in defense.
The Orioles fired the first volley in the third, and Alomar the leadoff hitter was the spark. He singled to left with one out, and after Anderson flied to right, Alomar stole second. In scoring position, he scored easily when Ripken singled to left. But Ripken would cost the Orioles a run in the bottom of that inning.
Paul O'Neill singled home Derek Jeter with one out, tying the game. Orioles left-hander Rick Krivda walked Bernie Williams, loading the bases, but then struck out Tino Martinez on a changeup. Ruben Sierra hit an easy grounder to short, for what appeared to be the final out. Ripken always catches the ball. For 14 years, he's the guy pitchers wanted to field the critical grounders.
This time, he didn't. The grounder bounced off the heel of his glove and Joe Girardi scored.
The Yankees had everything going their way now. Bobby Bonilla led off the fourth with a high, deep drive to right-center. A double, it appeared, maybe a homer. But center fielder Bernie Williams glided across the outfield, leaped at the warning track, and gloved Bonilla's drive with his arm extended high over the wall. B. J. Surhoff singled, but first baseman Martinez made a leaping catch of Luis Polonia's liner for the final out.
The Yankees added to their lead in the third, Wade Boggs picking through Krivda's pitches -- former Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller once said Boggs looks like a man looking through his mail for a check -- before lining a double. Jeter trotted home, Yankees 3, Orioles 1.
The Orioles have shown no resiliency of late. But they came back in the fifth, Alomar leading the way with a double. Ripken doubled home Alomar. Palmeiro launched a two-run shot into the right-field stands, and within the span of four hitters, the Orioles had assumed a 4-3 lead.
"They're too good and it's too early to start putting up the crepe paper," Yankees manager Joe Torre said of the Orioles. "We're not taking anything for granted."
The Yankees, always counter-punching: The first two batters reached base off Krivda in the bottom of the fifth, and Johnson called for Alan Mills. Mariano Duncan walked. Then Gerald Williams ripped a liner to right, headed for the corner. Mike Devereaux, playing right for the sore-shouldered Bonilla, raced to his left and speared the ball. Martinez scored, but, in a subtle failure, Sierra did not tag up and go to third. Jeter grounded out, and after Johnson called for another pitcher -- Rhodes -- Boggs struck out.
Errors in fundamentals sabotaged the Orioles in the sixth. Devereaux hit a leadoff double. But Polonia grounded to shortstop, with Devereaux stuck at second. Johnson, in the dugout, dropped his head in despair. Gregg Zaun popped out, Alomar flied out.
Rivera took over for the Yankees in the top of the seventh, and he and Rhodes, arguably the two best middle relievers in the AL this year, started a secondary duel.
"I think the key was Art," Palmeiro said of Rhodes, who threw 3 1/3 innings of two-hit ball. "He kept us in the game."
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Yankee Stadium
Time: 1: 05
TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (10-4, 4.99) vs. Yankees' Andy Pettitte (11-4, 4.25)
Pub Date: 6/29/96