NEW YORK -- The Orioles were three outs away from turning New York into a mass of hysteria last night, three outs away from closing to within two games of the Yankees in the American League East race.
But they never did get those three outs, and after last night's heartbreaking, 10-inning, 3-2 loss to the Yankees, they're in danger of falling out of the AL East race for good today, in a doubleheader against New York.
When Ruben Rivera's broken-bat looper carried over the outstretched glove of Roberto Alomar and Derek Jeter scored, the Orioles fell four games behind New York, which has won nine of 11 games against the Orioles this season.
"I didn't think I had a shot at it," Alomar said of the winning hit against Alan Mills. "I just jumped up, but I don't think it was that close."
The Orioles, now 2 1/2 games ahead of Seattle in the AL wild-card race, led 2-1 going into the bottom of the ninth. Starter Scott Erickson had pitched a marvelous game, Eddie Murray drove in the lead run in the top of the seventh, and the Orioles' defense had turned three double plays.
Orioles closer Randy Myers walked out of the Orioles bullpen to finish the job in the bottom of the ninth. He immediately got into trouble, walking Paul O'Neill and Cecil Fielder to start the inning.
"Randy looked like he was overthrowing," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson, "but he'd been throwing pretty good lately."
Tino Martinez popped up, and Johnson walked out of the dugout to 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.
Johnson wanted Mills so Bernie Williams would have to bat left-handed, the switch-hitter's most ineffective side. But Williams grounded a single up the middle, scoring pinch runner Rivera with the tying run.
Mills got out of the inning, however, when Mariano 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. Tim Raines grounded sharply to second -- Jeter moving to third. Mills jumped ahead of Rivera in the count, one ball and two strikes, and then threw an outside slider. Rivera swung weakly, his bat shattered upon contact.
But the ball carried in an arc toward right, barely clearing the leap of Alomar. Mills kicked at the dirt in anger, as the Yankees stormed the field to congratulate their rookie heroes, Jeter and Rivera. Johnson, watching the celebration from the Orioles dugout, could only scratch his head dejectedly, pondering what could have been.
"The pitch was a fastball in," said Mills. "He got a hit, that's why he's at the plate. I threw the ball where I wanted it; he just hit it."
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.
Pettitte frustrated the Orioles with his refusal to throw anything they could swing at, like lumberjacks trying to swing an ax at a sapling blowing in the wind. If he threw fastballs, he threw them far enough inside that the Orioles' hitters swung with their arms crammed against their bodies, and if Pettitte threw changeups and breaking balls he often threw them on the outside corner, so that the hitters would barely get a piece of the ball.
The Orioles were lucky to score their only run of the first six innings. Brady Anderson hit a broken-bat looper to left-center leading off, and when the ball landed, it didn't bounce up for left fielder Raines, sinking, instead, in the outfield squishy from two days of rain. Raines overran the ball by a step, and Anderson, sprinting all the way, dove headlong into second with a double.
Alomar bunted, advancing Anderson to third, setting up Todd Zeile; a lifetime National Leaguer before being traded to the Orioles at the end of August, Zeile angled his swing so he would chop a grounder to the right side, and Anderson scored.
That was about all of the Orioles' offense in the first six innings, save for an infield single by Anderson in the sixth.
But the Yankees were doing little against Erickson, who held the Yankees to one run and seven hits in seven-plus innings.
Their only run until the ninth was aided by Erickson's indecision while fielding a bunt in the fifth inning.
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.
About the only objective the Orioles accomplished against Pettitte in the first six innings was making him throw lots and lots of pitches. They fouled off seven two-strike pitches among Pettitte's 28 pitches in the second inning alone, and through the first five innings, he'd thrown 83 pitches.
Maybe all that had taken its toll by the top of the seventh, when, with the score tied 1-1, Bobby Bonilla led off with a single. In Cal Ripken's first two at-bats, Pettitte repeatedly jammed him, and Ripken kept fouling off fastballs and breaking balls toward the seats along the first base line.
Batting in the seventh, however, Ripken got a two-ball, two-strike breaking ball from Pettitte and hooked it down the left-field line; all the Orioles in the dugout bolted out, over the steps, so they could see what would become of the hit. Raines ran gingerly after the hit, making sure not to slip and let the ball roll past him, and Bonilla scampered into third, Ripken into second.
Runners in scoring position, Murray at the plate, and ahead in the count 0-1, Pettitte fired an inside fastball and Murray fought it off, making contact near the trademark. The ball took a big hop -- and skipped into left field, past the dive of third baseman Wade Boggs. Bonilla scored, Ripken stopped at third on the single, and all the moving parts of Yankee Stadium groaned. Orioles 2, Yankees 1.
But the Orioles could get no more. B. J. Surhoff, 8-for-12 in his career against Pettitte coming into the game, bounced back to the pitcher, who gloved, looked Ripken back to third, whirled and started a 1-6-3 double play. Mark Parent grounded out, ending the rally.
Pub Date: 9/19/96