It could have been a perfectly awful night, but Eddie Murray chased the clouds away with his historic 500th home run and took some of the sting out of a rain-soaked 5-4 loss in 12 innings to the last-place Detroit Tigers at Camden Yards.
Murray lined a first-pitch fastball from Detroit pitcher Felipe Lira into the right-field bleachers with one out in the seventh inning to bring the Orioles back from a run down and chisel his name
deeper into baseball history, but a less historic swing by Tigers outfielder Bobby Higginson five innings later took a little of the luster off Murray's big moment.
Higginson's broken-bat single in the 12th following a pair of walks by reliever Terry Mathews cost the Orioles a chance to stay within four games of the first-place New York Yankees in the American League East and an opportunity to pull even with the Chicago White Sox in the wild-card hunt.
"Long night," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said when the game, which started two hours and 20 minutes late because of rain, ended at about 2: 15 a.m. "We're all happy he [Murray] hit it. It was a big moment. I just wish we could have put the icing on the cake with a win."
The night belonged to Murray, who returned to Baltimore after a 7 1/2 -year absence to register his second major offensive milestone in two seasons. He got his 3,000th career hit last year with Cleveland and last night became only the third player to accumulate both 3,000 hits and 500 home runs, joining Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.
The setting could have been better. The remnants of Hurricane Fran, and the ensuing rain delay, sent about half of the announced crowd of 46,708 home long before Murray came to the plate for his third appearance.
He had walked his first time up and grounded into a force play in his second at-bat, but didn't hesitate when Lira tried to get ahead on the count with one out in the seventh. He launched his 21st homer of the year and circled the bases under a shower of glittering confetti. The remaining crowd filled the decibel gap with an 8 1/2 -minute ovation and Murray made a pair of curtain calls before the game continued.
Higginson had put the Tigers in front with a home run of his own in the top of the eighth, but the Orioles rallied again on a sacrifice fly by Bobby Bonilla before the game evolved into a battle of the bullpens -- a battle that the Orioles figured to win against a last-place club that has spent the season challenging the American League record for the highest team ERA.
Johnson said the club still was feeling the effects of a "killer" cross- country flight Wednesday. "We had a rough road trip," he said. "I knew it was going to be tough for us to get acclimated. It was very tiring."
Too bad for starter David Wells, who had displayed his best stuff of the season only to end up with another no-decision.
Wells apparently had a lot of pent-up energy when the game finally began. He struck out the side in the first inning, blowing the ball past Travis Fryman for the final out, and would go on to set an Orioles season high and match his career high with 11 strikeouts.
He was coming off a strong performance in Oakland and had given up three runs or fewer in nine of his previous 11 starts, but Detroit broke through for a pair of runs in the third inning on a home run by Phil Nevin and an RBI groundout by Mark Lewis.
Nevin, who was the first player selected in the 1992 draft (by Houston), led off the third with a high fly to left that landed just behind the 364 sign for his third homer in the last four games.
The Tigers also manufactured a run, moving International League Player of the Year Phil Hiatt around the bases with a bunt single and a sacrifice before Lewis scored him with a grounder.
The Orioles had opportunities to give Wells room to work. Rafael Palmeiro put them on top in the second inning with his 33rd home run and the stacked Orioles lineup appeared ready to put the hammer down early on Lira.
Lira, who came in looking for his first victory since July 7, allowed four of the first five Orioles batters to reach base in the second, but some overly enthusiastic base running by Bonilla cost the club a chance for a big inning.
Bonilla followed Palmeiro's homer with a base hit, but was out easily trying to stretch it when right fielder Melvin Nieves made a perfect one-hop throw to second.
Two more batters reached base in the inning, but the Orioles had to settle for just the one run. They would add another in the third when Brady Anderson was hit by a pitch and moved around to score on a double by Todd Zeile and a sacrifice fly by Roberto Alomar.
"It's a little frustrating," said Pete Incaviglia, who pinch hit in the 11th inning. "With this type of club, we always feel like we're in the ballgame, especially when it's close. With an offense like this, we always think we can win. It's frustrating, but there's always tomorrow."
Or even later today.
Pub Date: 9/07/96