NEW YORK -- Three outs away.
Three outs away from a stirring victory.
Three outs away from conquering 21-game winner Andy Pettitte.
Three outs away from a chance to tie for first place today.
You saw what happened.
It was SkyDome '89 all over again, with Randy Myers playing the role of Gregg Olson, minus the wild pitch.
Myers walked the first two hitters of the ninth, then was removed by manager Davey Johnson after retiring Tino Martinez on a pop-up.
Yankees 3, Orioles 2.
Three outs away.
And afterward, all Myers wanted to know is why he wasn't allowed to finish the mess he started.
Fitting, wasn't it?
You just knew this collection of high-priced individuals would produce one more selfish outburst before this tumultuous season was over.
"I have confidence in myself," Myers said. "If you have a closer, that job with a one-run lead is to get three outs before someone scores.
"I wasn't allowed to finish. It's like pulling a hitter out with a 2-1 or 2-2 count, saying, 'time out,' and putting in a pinch hitter for him."
Johnson declined to respond to Myers' comments, but said earlier in his post-game media gathering that the left-hander was "overthrowing."
He also wanted the right-handed Mills to face the switch-hitting Williams, who entered the game hitting .382 from the right side, but only .259 from the left.
Irrefutable logic, especially considering that Myers has a 5.79 ERA since July 7. But Johnson need not defend himself. Right now, he has bigger problems.
Indeed, the Orioles can probably forget about winning the American League East, unless they sweep the Yankees in today's doubleheader.
"At this stage of the game you feel like you have to take two out of three here," shortstop Cal Ripken said.
It could happen with Mike Mussina facing Kenny Rogers and David Wells facing David Cone. But the Orioles now trail the Yankees by four games.
If they can't cut into that margin with a sweep, it will be almost impossible to win the division with 10 games to play.
And if they get swept, their wild-card chances might also start fading, with their lead over the Seattle Mariners down to 2 1/2 games.
They got a magnificent start from Scott Erickson last night, terrific infield defense, a clutch tie-breaking single by Eddie Murray in the seventh.
But then Cal Ripken failed to break for the plate on a slow bouncer to the mound by B. J. Surhoff with men on first and third with none out.
Pettitte and shortstop Derek Jeter turned a spectacular double play with Ripken frozen at third, and Mark Parent grounded out to end the threat.
The Orioles never had another runner.
Johnson said Ripken has "got to go" in that situation, if only to force a rundown and avoid a double play.
Ripken said it wasn't that simple.
"You're supposed to go on any well-hit ground ball, but the slow ball you're supposed to read," he said. "The strategy is to stay out of the double play."
"I don't know what else I could have done except maybe make a good fake [toward home] after he threw the ball to second base."
Oddly enough, the Orioles' other major miscue also came on a comebacker, when Erickson threw belatedly to third in the fifth, leading to the Yankees' first run.
Still, they had their 2-1 lead entering the ninth.
Myers said Tuesday that he believed Johnson's use of alternate closers was a sign the Orioles might trade him.
Johnson started using alternate closers because he no longer could trust Myers with a late-inning lead, and last night was proof.
First Myers walked Paul O'Neill, a left-handed hitter. Then he walked Cecil Fielder, who had looked awful going 0-for-3, striking out and grounding into a double play.
"I was working the hitters," Myers said. "Cecil and Paul took close pitches, quality hitters. I thought they were going to swing. They showed good discipline."
Not once did Myers accept responsibility. Not once did he say, "It's a sin to walk the leadoff hitter, and then the next hitter."
He just questioned Johnson.
Perhaps it was only fitting that it ended this way, with the Orioles falling victim to their own smugness, and the Yankees winning behind four players from of their farm system, all in their first or second seasons.
Pettitte worked into the ninth, Mariano Rivera pitched 1 2/3 perfect innings for the victory. Rivera's cousin, Ruben, got the winning hit, and Jeter scored the winning run.
Three outs away, and the Orioles blew it.
Three outs away, and all Randy Myers wanted to talk about was Randy Myers.
Pub Date: 9/19/96