OAKLAND, Calif. -- Rafael Palmeiro wanted it bad. The Orioles first baseman wants to get into the postseason for the first time, and he knew that yesterday's doubleheader against the Oakland Athletics could play large in the outcome of the American League East race and the wild-card hunt.
He said so before the game, when somebody suggested that it would be nice to have a couple of quick games and get some sleep.
L "I'll stay all night if it gets us two wins," Palmeiro said.
Then he took matters in his own hands, driving in six runs to lead the Orioles to a 14-3 victory in the first game and getting closer Randy Myers off the hook with his second run-scoring double of the nightcap to carry the club to a 5-4 victory in 10 innings.
The Orioles ran their winning streak to five to move to within 5 1/2 games of the first-place New York Yankees (who lost to Seattle) and just one game of the Chicago White Sox (who dropped a double header to Milwaukee) in the wild-card standings, though the parade stopped briefly when Myers gave up a game-tying home run to Geronimo Berroa in the ninth inning of the second game.
Everything else went right. The Orioles scored 14 runs in the final three innings of the first game. Eddie Murray hit his 498th career home run in the nightcap. Scott Erickson pitched a complete game to open the afternoon. Palmeiro completed an eight-RBI day with his game-winning two-out double off Mike Mohler for the Orioles' 14th victory in their past 18 games. It was the first doubleheader sweep by the Orioles since June 23, 1991, in Kansas City.
Palmeiro knew what that might mean, and made it clear before the first pitch yesterday that he would not be satisfied with a split.
"The reason I said that was because I knew that the White Sox were playing a doubleheader against the Brewers," Palmeiro said. "The Brewers have been struggling, but I thought they were due to do something, which would give us a chance to pick up some real ground."
The Brewers also won a one-run game in the nightcap to complete their sweep in Milwaukee, leaving the Orioles with a chance to move into the wild-card lead before the weekend is out. They have served notice that they no longer are the underachieving team that stumbled through the late spring and early summer with little sense of urgency or direction.
Now, with a lineup that includes eight starters who have 17 home runs or more, they are pummelling foes, and doing it with particular gusto in the late innings.
"I don't know what it is," Palmeiro said. "We've just got a great hitting team. Sometimes it takes a couple of at-bats to get going."
In the first game, the deluge began right on schedule. The Orioles managed just one hit through six innings, then they sent the official scorer at Oakland Coliseum in search of his calculator again.
Count 'em. The Orioles scored 14 runs in the final three innings to wax the shellshocked A's, piling it on the beleaguered A's bullpen for the second game in a row.
The night before, the Orioles scored 15 runs after the sixth, but yesterday's first-game finish was even more amazing, considering the strong performance of A's starter John Wasdin through the first six. He gave up just a double to Chris Hoiles in the third before the Orioles blew the game open with seven in the seventh, three in the eighth and four in the ninth. The first six innings, one hit. The next three innings, 18 hits. It defies science.
"Wasdin pitched a great ballgame. We didn't get nothing," manager Davey Johnson said. "Then we started to find a few holes, a few balls dropped in, then the roof caved in. That's the kind of offensive ballclub we have."
Palmeiro drove in six runs in the first game and two more in the nightcap to increase his season total to 111 and eclipse his previous career high (105) with more than six weeks remaining. He is on pace to drive in 148, and that pace has picked up considerably with the 11 RBIs he has accumulated in the first three games of this series.
"He's been doing it all year," Johnson said. "He's got 11 ribbies. He's just been awfully consistent all year. He does it so easy . . . not in spectacular fashion. He has such a sweet, sweet swing."
He broke up a one-run first game with a bases-loaded double in the seventh inning, then added a little gravy with a two-run single in the eighth and a run-scoring hit in the ninth. But he didn't do it all by himself.
Hoiles continues to swing a hot bat, too. He had three more hits, including a run-scoring single and his 21st home run of the year to extend his career-long hitting streak to 13 games.
Johnson has credited the club's offensive resurgence to the bottom third of the lineup, which included a new member yesterday. Rookie outfielder Brent Bowers made his major-league debut in place of injured Jeffrey Hammonds and delivered the hit that brought the Orioles from behind in the seventh inning.
Bowers had struck out in his first big-league at-bat and lined out in the sixth, leaving room to wonder why he was even at the plate with the bases loaded and the Orioles behind by a run in the seventh. But Johnson let him hit and he drove the ball into the gap in right-center to score the tying and go-ahead runs. Nobody knew at the time that those runs would be at the bottom of a big pile three innings later.
"Bowers had a great day," Johnson said. "That hit was the ballgame."
Erickson (7-10) had a great day, too. He gave up the first two runs of the game, but hung tough until the offense came on for the late shift and finished up to record his sixth complete game. The victory was his second in three starts after going more than a month without a win.
"He has been inconsistent most of the year," said Johnson, "but this was a big one for him."
The game started out typically enough, with Wasdin and Erickson locked in a tight pitching duel much like the one between Mike Mussina and rookie Willie Adams the night before. This time, the A's broke on top with a run-scoring single by Mike Bordick in the fifth and padded that lead with Berroa's first home run.
The Orioles managed just a third-inning double by Hoiles before Cal Ripken's one-out single in the seventh kicked off another bat-around. B. J. Surhoff and Murray -- in a determined at-bat that included numerous foul balls -- followed with hits for the first Orioles run. Wasdin walked Hoiles to load the bases and Bowers tomahawked a line drive into the gap for two more.
Roberto Alomar was walked intentionally before A's manager Art Howe brought on Buddy Groom. Groom struck out Brady Anderson, but Palmeiro hit a long fly ball to left-center that short-hopped the wall and cleared the bases.
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site: Oakland (Calif.) Coliseum
Time: 4:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Rocky Coppinger (7-3, 4.83) vs. A's Ariel Prieto (3-5, 4.83)
In the last three innings of Thursday's game and yesterday's first game, the Orioles pounded out 29 runs and 32 hits:
Date, Inn. ......... Batters ... R ... H
7th .......... 10 ........ 6 ... 4
8th .......... 8 ......... 3 ... 4
9th .......... 11 ........ 6 ... 6
7th .......... 12 ........ 7 ... 7
8th .......... 8 ......... 3 ... 5
9th .......... 9 ......... 4 ... 6
Pub Date: 8/17/96