Two innings before Eddie Murray beat the Chicago White Sox in the 10th inning last night, Orioles manager Davey Johnson thought about replacing him with a pinch runner. Murray singled with two outs in the eighth, and Johnson mulled replacing him and maybe getting Manny Alexander to steal his way into scoring position.
If Johnson followed conventional wisdom, he would have made the change. But there was nothing conventional about this game.
The Orioles had come back from a 3-0 deficit to take a 6-3 lead, only to give up three runs to the White Sox in the top of the eighth. Johnson couldn't yank steady Eddie out of this crazy game. "There was too much baseball left to be played," Johnson said.
Sure enough, Murray's sacrifice fly scored Rafael Palmeiro with the winning run in the bottom of the 10th, sealing a 7-6 victory. A crowd of 46,453 at Camden Yards heartily approved, as the Orioles, with their fifth straight victory, increased their lead in the wild-card race to 1 1/2 games over the White Sox. The Orioles are still 2 1/2 games behind New York in the American League East race.
The Orioles failed to hit a home run for the first time in 13 games, but Alan Mills (3-1) pitched two shutout innings, striking out three, to gain the victory.
Should Mike Mussina and the Orioles beat the White Sox tonight, they would complete their first three-game sweep of a team over .500 this year, as part of the Orioles' first six-game winning streak of 1996.
White Sox closer Roberto Hernandez entered the game with the score tied in the bottom of the eighth, and he was throwing hard. "Gas," said Orioles pitching coach Pat Dobson.
Palmeiro said: "He's incredible."
The first four outs registered by Hernandez were on strikeouts, and he was still throwing exceptionally hard as the bottom of the 10th inning began.
But Palmeiro pulled a single to right to lead off, and with first baseman Frank Thomas holding Palmeiro at first, Bobby Bonilla pulled a broken-bat, looping single through the hole where Thomas would've been standing. Palmeiro stopped at third, Bonilla at first, nobody out.
Cal Ripken struck out (missing a chance to pay back Hernandez for that inadvertent elbow to the nose at the All-Star Game team photo), and Murray, who had entered the game in the eighth as a pinch hitter for Pete Incaviglia, was next. Mike Devereaux pinch ran for Bonilla at first, to reduce the chances of an inning-ending double play.
Third base coach John Stearns walked over to Palmeiro and they reviewed the situation. A medium-deep fly ball, and he was definitely going to try to score.
Murray got ahead in the count, three balls and no strikes, and Hernandez (6-3) came back with two strikes. Murray fouled off a fastball, another. A great at-bat, hitting coach Rick Down said, Murray shortening up his swing, simply trying to make contact, put the ball in play and drive in the run.
Johnson could've allowed Devereaux to swipe second, but he didn't want to leave first base open and provide an opportunity for the White Sox to pitch around Murray.
"I didn't want to take the bat out of Eddie's hands," Johnson said after the 1,889th RBI of Murray's career. "I've seen him do it too many times before."
Murray said: "I've probably been there the most of all the guys. I don't mind being there. That's what the game's all about. You don't really want to put that on anybody else."
Hernandez threw another fastball, and Murray pounded it into the air. As soon as the ball went up, Stearns moved alongside Palmeiro and said over the rising din, "Tag up, you're going to go on this one. Be careful you don't leave too soon."
White Sox center fielder Dave Martinez has a good arm, but he was at a disadvantage; he was playing shallow, and the ball was hit slightly behind him, and he would not have the advantage of running into his catch and throwing with his momentum behind him.
Palmeiro tagged and raced home, and Martinez's throw tailed weakly toward first and never had a chance. Palmeiro slid across home, leaped to his feet and hammered teammate B. J. Surhoff with a double high-five, the other Orioles running out of the dugout to join in. The crowd chanted that familiar refrain: ED-DIE, ED-DIE.
"Just what we needed," said Johnson.
The Orioles' four-game winning streak was in jeopardy after 5 1/2 innings. Left-hander Rick Krivda started for the Orioles and pitched well into the sixth -- allowing only five hits, including Thomas' 31st homer -- but the White Sox led 3-0.
Wilson Alvarez had held the Orioles to three hits over the first five innings, facing only two batters over the minimum, and Chris Hoiles popped out to second. The Orioles seemed dead. But Alvarez walked Brady Anderson and Roberto Alomar in succession. Todd Zeile singled to load the bases.
Left-hander Tony Castillo relieved Alvarez and retired Palmeiro on a popout. But Bonilla, who had nearly homered earlier in the game, ripped a liner to right that hit inside the foul line, clearing the bases and tying the score.
Ripken pulled a grounder through third baseman Robin Ventura, and Bonilla scored on the error, Ripken stopping at second. Incaviglia ripped a single to right, and Ripken scored standing, to give the Orioles a 5-3 lead.
Surhoff singled up the middle, advancing Incaviglia to third, and Hoiles, the 10th batter of the inning, hit a soft single to left and Incaviglia raced home. The Orioles led 6-3, and the White Sox seemed dead.
Wrong again. Terry Mathews walked Danny Tartabull leading off the eighth, and left-hander Jesse Orosco came in to pitch to the left-handed-hitting Ventura; Orosco had only allowed one earned run in his last 27 outings, dating back to July 1.
However, Ventura hammered a liner that Bonilla tried catching with a slide. The ball hit the ground and then skipped off the right fielder, bouncing 50 or 60 feet away, into the corner. Tartabull scored and Ventura ended up on third.
Then Lyle Mouton homered, and just like that, a 6-6 tie.
Not for long.
What was it Mike Flanagan said about Murray, the greatest clutch hitter in the game over the last 20 years?
AL East .. .. .. W-L .. GB .. GR
New York . ... 81-63 .. -- .. 18
Orioles .. ... 79-66 .. 2 1/2 .. 17
Wild card ... .. W-L .. GB .. GR
Orioles .. ... 79-66 .. -- .. 17
Chicago .. ... 78-68 .. 1 1/2 .. 16
Seattle .. ... 73-70 ... 5 .. 19
Opponent: Chicago White Sox
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 7: 35
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: White Sox's Alex Fernandez (13-9, 3.39) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (19-9, 4.61)
Tickets: Scattered singles, day-of-game bleachers and standing room
Pub Date: 9/12/96