O's get even with Yankees 5-3 victory ties playoff series at one game apiece; Wells pitches strong game; Palmeiro's home run game-winner; Benitez closes out Yankees; AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK -- The Orioles got even yesterday. They bounced back from one of the most aggravating losses in club history and defeated the New York Yankees, 5-3, to square the American League Championship Series and send it to Baltimore for Game 3 tonight at Camden Yards.

First baseman Rafael Palmeiro hit a tie-breaking, two-run home run in the seventh inning to support another strong October performance by starter David Wells, who pitched 6 2/3 innings to earn his second victory of the postseason and further establish his growing reputation as a big-game pitcher.

Wells won the first game of the Division Series against the Cleveland Indians and also pitched well in a decisive Game 4, but this clearly was the biggest game he had started as an Oriole. The club was in danger of falling behind by two games in the best-of-seven series after a disputed home run cost them a chance to win the opener on Wednesday night.

Tonight, Orioles ace Mike Mussina can put them in front when he faces veteran left-hander Jimmy Key in the first of three straight games at Oriole Park.

Mussina can only hope to duplicate the clutch, eight-hit performance that gave Wells his 10th victory in 11 career decisions at Yankee Stadium.

"He has kept us in a lot of games," said Palmeiro, who homered for the second straight day. "He's one of the big reasons we're hTC here."

So is Palmeiro, who hit 39 home runs and had 142 RBIs during the regular season, but had struggled at the plate in the first round of the playoffs. He couldn't have picked a better time to launch a towering shot off Yankees reliever Jeff Nelson and give the Orioles a two-run lead.

"It feels great, but it was a total team effort," Palmeiro said. "Wells pitched a good game, he kept us in the game. [Roberto] Alomar comes up with the sacrifice fly, and that was really big, too, so it was a total team effort."

Newcomer Todd Zeile also made a big contribution, with a two-run homer in the third inning that brought the Orioles back from a two-run deficit, but the offensive window of opportunity appeared to be closing as the game entered the late innings.

The Yankees bullpen has been so dominant that opposing teams cannot afford to go too deep into the game without a lead. Nelson, who grew up in Catonsville, has been one of the cornerstones of that bullpen, but he couldn't hold things together for starter David Cone.

Nelson allowed a one-out double to Alomar and the home run to Palmeiro, and also was charged with an important insurance run that scored when Alomar drove home Brady Anderson with a sacrifice fly in the top of the eighth.

Four Orioles relievers combined to protect the lead, including promising right-hander Armando Benitez, who came into a difficult situation in the ninth inning and recorded his first career postseason save.

Closer Randy Myers allowed the potential winning run to reach the plate, but Benitez retired slugger Cecil Fielder and first baseman Tino Martinez -- both of whom had more than 100 RBI during the regular season.

The series now moves to Baltimore, where the fences are closer and the fans are friendlier. The Orioles escaped from New York with a split of the first two games, which gives them the home-field advantage in what is now down to a best-of-five series.

"Most of our guys have been around long enough to know that things can change overnight," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson, "so we can take a tough loss."

The only question is whether the Baltimore fans will be able to create the kind of intimidating atmosphere at Camden Yards that the Orioles had to overcome in sold-out, whacked-out Yankee Stadium.

"They are terrific fans, and they make life tough for opponents," ,, Palmeiro said. "I just hope our fans come out and do the same thing."

Pub Date: 10/11/96

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