NEW YORK -- For David Cone, yesterday's start in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series was a labor of love.
Cone loved being in the postseason, but he labored through six innings before being removed.
Bringing little else to the mound except his guile and resilience, Cone pitched badly enough to lose, yet departed with the score tied, 2-2. He had nothing to do with the decisive blow, a two-run homer by Rafael Palmeiro off Yankees reliever Jeff Nelson that sparked the Orioles' 5-3 victory.
Cone allowed five hits and two runs, but those numbers were deceiving. The former Cy Young Award winner did not dominate.
Making his seventh start since coming off the disabled list on Sept. 2, Cone threw 133 pitches before manager Joe Torre pulled him. Orioles starter David Wells, by comparison, totaled 93 through six innings.
Thirteen times, Cone went to three balls on a hitter. He walked five, struck out five, threw a wild pitch and had no chance of being saddled with the loss despite his many difficulties.
How did Cone, who had surgery on May 10 to remove an aneurysm in his right shoulder, feel about the game still being tied when Nelson took over? "Lucky, no doubt about it," he said.
The fifth inning was vintage Cone yesterday. He retired the first two batters, then threw a breaking ball on the outside corner that Roberto Alomar chopped up the middle, just beyond diving shortstop Derek Jeter, who was shading toward the hole. Cone then went to a full count on Rafael Palmeiro, each pitch seeming to take an eternity as he walked to the back of the mound, adjusted his cap, threw over to first.
Finally, he got Palmeiro to ground out, and the huge Yankee Stadium crowd erupted. Another jam had come and gone.
Another one was waiting for him around the corner.
Cone, 7-2 with a 2.88 ERA during the regular season, struck out Bobby Bonilla to begin the sixth, but that was a tease. He gave up a looping single to right by Cal Ripken and a two-out single to B. J. Surhoff. The tightrope was getting thinner.
Chris Hoiles walked to load the bases, and with left-hander Brady Anderson coming up, Torre emerged from the dugout. Left-hander Graeme Lloyd was ready in the bullpen, but Cone persuaded Torre to let him continue, saying "I want this out."
Lloyd sat down, and Cone rewarded Torre's faith. He got ahead of Anderson with a couple of breaking balls, then retired him on a long fly down the left-field line. To that point, the Orioles were 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position, and Cone was the greatest escape artist since Houdini.
"I tried to convince [Torre] that I had enough to make some pitches and get out of this. I got us in the jam and I still had enough left to get out of it," Cone said.
The only inning he couldn't get away clean was the third, when he walked Anderson and gave up a two-run homer to Todd Zeile that wiped out a 2-0 Yankees lead.
Cone had walked the bases loaded in the first, then retired Ripken on a fly ball to center. He threw 32 pitches, and he was just getting started.
"There were some close calls he didn't get," Torre said. "It looked like the umpire got a little stingy on him at times, but that was for both sides."
"I have to give [the Orioles] credit," Cone said. "There were a lot of pitches that were very close and they were very disciplined and forced me to throw a lot of pitches and get me out of the game a little earlier than I would have liked. It wasn't like I was really wild and missing badly.
"I felt good. I felt like I had some pretty decent stuff."
The Orioles must not have noticed. They had at least one base runner in every inning except the second.
"David struggled with his command," Torre said. "His stuff is fine. In fact, right at the end in the last couple of innings, it looked like he had better command because maybe some of the excitement had worn out. He got a little tired, but it's there and I look forward to his next start."
Pub Date: 10/11/96