In the time it took third baseman Todd Zeile to inadvertently pump fake a ball into the infield dirt and Bernie Williams to race home from third, the Orioles went from in control of the series to in pursuit of the Yankees.
"Unbelievable," Zeile said after his error sent the Yankees off to a 5-2 victory at Camden Yards and a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Two nights after the Orioles had a game stolen, they gave one away. This one was no less bizarre than having a 12-year-old pull a ball out of play and into the seats for a home run.
It happened in the eighth inning, with Mike Mussina dominating the Yankees. He took a 2-1 lead into the inning, got the first two outs, and then watched the sky fall on the Orioles.
First, Derek Jeter doubled to right. Then Williams slapped a single to left, bringing Jeter home with the tying run. Next up, Tino Martinez, who was 2-for-12 in the series.
Martinez hit an opposite-field double down the left-field line. B. J. Surhoff, playing with a tender hamstring, did well simply to cut the ball off before it got to the wall.
His throw to Zeile at third was too late to catch the sliding Williams. But in the next instant, the series changed dramatically, if not irrevocably.
Zeile took the throw in one motion and thought he might be able to catch Martinez going into second. But when he realized he couldn't and tried to hold up, the ball slipped from his hand and rolled toward shortstop. Cal Ripken's hurried throw was high and wide of the plate, with nothing on it, and allowed Williams to score easily.
"When B. J. got the ball back in to me, I thought Tino held up a little around first because it came in so quick," Zeile said.
"Once I looked, I saw he [Martinez] was close [to second]. Then I tried to pump fake, but it slipped out of my hand."
Pump fakes are nothing new to Zeile, a former catcher and an Oriole only since an Aug. 29 trade with the Philadelphia Phillies. But this one, in the cool, late-night air, with cold hands all around, was a disaster.
"My hands were cold, but everybody's hands were cold," Zeile said.
He said the play unfolded almost in slow-motion. Williams was lying on his stomach at third when the ball came loose. In a flash, he was up and running for home. Did his quick decision surprise Zeile?
"At first, I didn't think he was going to go," Zeile said. "But he read it and thought it was worth the risk."
The Orioles collapsed like a house of cards moments later when Cecil Fielder, whose bat had been muted in the first two games, drove a 1-0 breaking ball deep to the seats in left for a two-run, game-clinching home run.
Just like that, Zeile, who had homered in the first to give the Orioles a 2-0 lead, had gone from hero to goat.
"Two outs in the eighth inning with the lead, Mussina pitching VTC great baseball," Zeile said. "Anybody who follows the Orioles and Yankees realizes two outs in the eighth doesn't mean the game's over."
For the third straight night, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, this time in the Yankees' favor.
"From the fans' standpoint, it was great baseball," Zeile said. "But these are things we won't forget from an emotional standpoint, going high and low. We had a real tough one taken away from us in the first one in New York."
Pub Date: 10/12/96