Whose home field is it, anyway?
The Orioles came home to Baltimore with a chance to take control of the American League Championship Series last night, but Game 3 turned into a bad trip when the New York Yankees came up with four runs in the eighth inning and scored a 5-2 victory.
Maybe that was to be expected. The Yankees won all six of their games at Camden Yards during the regular season, and they played by a familiar postseason script to score their latest come-from-behind victory.
Perpetual playoff hero Bernie Williams delivered a game-tying single and Cecil Fielder hit a game-breaking home run to spoil a solid performance by Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina and give the Yankees a 2-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series.
"In the games that we've won, we've come from behind in all of them," said Fielder. "We're going to play nine hard innings. Everyone on this club stays around to the last out."
That has become obvious. The Yankees -- as Fielder happily noted -- have come from behind in each of the five games that they have won in this postseason and came from behind in the eighth inning or later in four of them.
This game turned around so quickly that Orioles manager Davey Johnson barely had time to think about removing Mussina, who had given up just a run on four hits through 7 2/3 innings. The Yankees reeled off three straight two-out hits. Third baseman Todd Zeile made a freak error at third base. Fielder went downtown. Orioles lose.
Now, they are in an uncomfortable position, down a game at home with rookie Rocky Coppinger set to go against Yankees left-hander Kenny Rogers in Game 4 tonight. If they lose that one, they will be one game away from the end of their 1996 season.
It was a particularly important victory for the Yankees, who had given up the home-field advantage when they split the first two games at Yankee Stadium. Left-hander Jimmy Key gave up just three hits over eight innings before turning the game over to closer John Wetteland, who pitched a perfect ninth to record his third save of the postseason.
"This is a remarkable run we have going," said New York manager Joe Torre. "We have played a ton of one-run and two-run games. I think we have gotten used to doing that. Close games don't bother us. Jimmy Key was spectacular, and we just play well in games like this."
The sellout crowd of 48,635 was far better behaved than the crowds that packed Yankee Stadium for the first two games of the series, but Orioles fans definitely were on a heightened state of alert as the teams prepared to take the field for the first championship series game in Baltimore since 1983.
They greeted embattled second baseman Roberto Alomar with a tremendous ovation and vented two days of pent-up frustration at third base umpire Rich Garcia, who made the controversial call that turned a potential fly out into a Derek Jeter home run in the opener of the series.
The orange wave of emotion crested very early when center fielder Brady Anderson led off the bottom of the first inning with a single to right field and Zeile lined a shot into the left-field seats for his second home run in as many games.
Zeile had pulled a two-run homer into the left-field bleachers against Yankees ace David Cone in the third inning of Game 2. He greeted Key with a similar drive, but it would be the last that anyone would hear from the Orioles offense.
"They jumped on me quick," Key said. "I didn't really get a chance to get my feet on the ground. I just told myself to start over. Start from here and getting people out."
The Yankees scored a run on an RBI groundout by Fielder in the fourth inning and then erupted in the eighth, scoring four times to spoil what was shaping up to be an outstanding performance by Mussina.
He retired the first two batters in that inning, but Derek Jeter doubled down the right-field line and Williams tied the game with a single to left. That was damaging enough -- considering the strength of the Yankees bullpen -- but what happened next was disastrous.
First baseman Tino Martinez followed with a double to left that sent Williams to third, and the Yankees scored the go-ahead run on a strange error by Zeile, who tried to pump toward second base and let the ball slip out of his hand. Cal Ripken chased it down and hurried a throw to the plate, but Williams scored easily. Fielder followed with his second home run of the postseason to set up an easy save for Wetteland.
Pub Date: 10/12/96