NEW YORK -- Hell knows no fury like Alan Mills as the losing pitcher. Strange, then, to see the Orioles reliever calmly answering reporters' questions last night, after he gave up the New York Yankees' game-tying hit in the bottom of the ninth inning and the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 10th.
The pitch that Bernie Williams hit to tie the game? A low fastball, Mills explained. Broke his bat. The pitch that Ruben Rivera blooped over the leap of Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar to win the game? A slider, broke his bat.
Mills almost looked bemused; there was nothing he could do about a couple of broken-bat hits that beat the Orioles, 3-2, after they were three outs away from moving to within two games of the Yankees in the American League East. "If I had to do it all over again," Mills said, "I wouldn't do anything differently."
Except win. Two walks allowed by Orioles closer Randy Myers leading off the bottom of the ninth set up the game-tying rally and the Yankees' ninth win in 11 games against the Orioles this season.
The Orioles, two games ahead of Seattle in the wild-card race, play the Yankees in a doubleheader today that may represent their last legitimate shot at putting pressure on first-place New York.
Yankee Stadium, Game 1: The smells of slightly overdone hot dogs and popcorn, thumping music, frenzied fans roaring with each Yankees hit, groaning at each Orioles run. The best baseball, the advantage seeming to swing from one team to the other with each ball or strike, each pitch providing an entirely new set of circumstances and complications.
The Orioles were so close. Starter Scott Erickson pitched exceptionally, lasting one batter into the eighth inning; of the 27 batters he faced, only two Yankees hit the ball into the air. Catcher Mark Parent said Erickson's sinking fastball was one of the best he'd ever seen.
The Orioles played unbelievable defense, particularly the second baseman Alomar, diving after balls and throwing off one foot, ballet in cleats. They turned three double plays, with Alomar the middle man in each.
Against Yankees ace Andy Pettitte, the Orioles managed a couple of runs, enough to win, certainly. Brady Anderson hit a blooper into left-center leading off the game, and, taking advantage of the soaked, squishy outfield and bad footing for Yankees left fielder Tim Raines, Anderson hustled and dove headlong into second with a double, and eventually scored.
Erickson gave up one run and seven hits in seven-plus innings, but the run he could have avoided. His indecision while fielding a bunt in the fifth inning helped the Yankees tie the score.
Mariano Duncan doubled and Jim Leyritz's bunt was fielded by Erickson just off the mound. But he hesitated before throwing too late to get Duncan at third. One out later, Duncan scored on a grounder to short.
"I should have thrown it there sooner, and I didn't and it cost us the game," Erickson said.
Tied 1-1, the Orioles took the lead in the seventh, when Cal Ripken hooked a double to left to push Bobby Bonilla to third, and Eddie Murray punched a bounding single through the left side to score Bonilla.
They could've had more, however; after the game, Johnson acknowledged Ripken had made a base-running mistake by not trying to score on a grounder to Pettitte, who looked Ripken back to third before whirling and starting a double play.
"I don't know what else I could've done," said Ripken, "except maybe make a good fake after he threw the ball to second base."
The Yankees had a runner at first and nobody out in the eighth, but Jesse Orosco relieved Erickson and got one out on a flyout, and Tim Raines hit a chopper to third. Third baseman Todd Zeile fired to Alomar, who stepped on second and then threw to first. Double play. Ripken, watching from shortstop, thrust both arms in the air. Shades of the final out of the 1983 World Series.
One more inning to go, the bottom of the ninth, and closer Myers walked out of the Orioles bullpen to finish the job. He immediately got into trouble, walking Paul O'Neill and Cecil Fielder to start the inning -- the Orioles' only walks of the game.
Tino Martinez popped up, and Johnson walked out of the dugout make a change. Myers, who said Tuesday he suspects the Orioles intend to trade him in the off-season because they've started using Mills to finish games, turned away when he saw Johnson coming to get him.
Myers met Johnson at the base of the mound, handing him the ball as he walked past; he did not have the posture of a happy man. "I was looking to do the job," said Myers, "and the job was to get three outs. By pulling me out, you're showing the other team you don't have confidence in me."
The walks, Johnson said later, really hurt the Orioles. But he would not respond to Myers' statements.
Johnson wanted Mills so Bernie Williams would have to bat left-handed, the switch-hitter's most ineffective side. Mills threw him a low fastball, and Williams grounded a single up the middle, scoring pinch runner Rivera with the tying run.
"A broken-bat hit," said pitching coach Pat Dobson. "A stinkin' broken-bat hit."
Mills got out of the inning, however, when Duncan grounded back to the mound -- Mills looking pinch runner Pat Kelly back to third -- and Joe Girardi hit a long drive that defensive replacement Mike Devereaux hauled down in right field.
Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera (7-2) mowed down the Orioles in the top of the 10th, and Derek Jeter led off the bottom of the 10th with a single off Mills. Charlie Hayes bunted Jeter to second. Raines grounded sharply to second, Jeter moving to third.
Mills was in control, now that he was past Raines, who had always given him problems. Rivera was next, and Mills and Parent knew from the scouting reports how Rivera couldn't hit breaking pitches very well. Throwing sliders, Mills jumped ahead of Rivera in the count, one ball and two strikes, and then threw an outside slider. Rivera swung weakly -- almost flipping his bat at the ball -- and his bat shattered upon contact.
But the ball carried in an arc toward right, toward Alomar. Please catch it, Parent thought. Alomar jumped, but for once, he did not catch the ball.
"I didn't think I had a shot at it," Alomar said. "I just jumped up, but I don't think it was that close."
Mills kicked at the dirt in anger, the Yankees stormed the field to congratulate their rookie heroes, Jeter and Rivera. Johnson sat in the dugout, scratching his head in despair.
The Yankees, who had seen much of their 12-game lead disappear coming into this series, were exuberant.
"My heart won't stop jumping," New York manager Joe Torre said. "This baby was wonderful. It really is. It was terrific."
Torre said he and hitting instructor Chris Chambliss had given some advice to Rivera before he faced Mills, but that the 22-year-old did it all on his own.
"Unbelievable," Torre said. "They threw him slider, slider, slider and he hung in."
"I'm still very excited," said Rivera, who speaks very little English and uses Williams as his interpreter. "It was very exhilarating. The way the guys were all holding me up made me feel that I was very important tonight."
About 45 minutes later, Dobson, dressed in street clothes, walked out of the Orioles' clubhouse, his coat collar turned up, carrying a cup of coffee. It was going to be a long night.
Tough loss, someone told him.
"No kidding," he said. "Tough." He looked up. "A great game."
AL East .......... W-L ...... GB ...... GR
New York ......... 86-64 .... -- ...... 12
Orioles .......... 82-68 .... 4 ....... 12
Wild card ........ W-L ...... GB ...... GR
Orioles .......... 82-68 .... -- ...... 12
Seattle .......... 80-70 .... 2 ....... 11
Chicago .......... 80-73 .... 3 1/2 ... 9
Opponent: New York Yankees, doubleheader
Site: Yankee Stadium
Time: 4:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (19-10, 4.77) vs. Yankees' Kenny Rogers (10-8, 4.94); David Wells (11-13, 4.72) vs. Yankees' David Cone (6-2, 2.21)
Pub Date: 9/19/96