The Orioles are probably the best team in history at hitting pitches thrown over the heart of the plate when the pitcher is in trouble -- which is something of an honor, until they face a team that doesn't throw those pitches. Like the New York Yankees.
New York thumped the Orioles, 8-4, muted a record crowd of 48,974 at Camden Yards last night and assumed a commanding three games-to-one lead in the American League Championship Series, and the Yankees need only to win one more game to wrap up this series.
The Orioles must win three straight games to stay alive, and they haven't won three straight against a team over .500 all year.
New York is 8-0 in Camden Yards this season, and they're 12-0 against the Orioles when they start a left-hander. Andy Pettitte, a left-hander, starts for the Yankees today against Scott Erickson.
Only four times in postseason history has a team come back from being down three games to one to win the final three, with the last two on the road: The 1958 Yankees and the '68 Detroit Tigers in the World Series, the 1985 Kansas City Royals against Toronto in the League Championship Series -- and, of course, the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates against the Orioles.
"It's a big game today," said Orioles right fielder Bobby Bonilla, now 0-for-16 in this series, "and if we don't win it, we'll be watching on TV."
They'll could be watching Darryl Strawberry, who hit two of the Yankees' four homers, in the World Series, and Bernie Williams, who hit another, as New York pounded Rocky Coppinger, who was making his first start in 16 days.
They'll watch the Yankees' pitching staff, which continues to reinvent the art of pitching. For decades, managers and coaches have preached the first rule of pitching is to throw strikes. New York is winning this series by not throwing strikes.
The Yankees pitchers are almost chronically falling behind in the count in this series, going to two balls and no strikes or 3-1 or 3-0. All year, the Orioles' hitters have taken advantage of those counts, swinging aggressively at pitches in the strike zone.
But the Yankees aren't throwing strikes, the Orioles are swinging anyway, and this is why the Orioles are 4-for-29 with runners in scoring position, and 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position and two outs.
"We've helped them out, no question," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson. "The key to good pitching is to throw something that looks like a strike and it goes out of the strike zone.
"We've been fairly selective, but we could've walked more. We're trying to make something happen."
A veteran scout admired the work of the Yankees pitchers the last two games, and suggested the Orioles are the victims of some terrific advance scouting, in this case, by former Orioles coach Chuck Cottier, who trailed the Orioles through the end of September and during the Yankees series.
"If you've watched the Orioles, you see they're all pretty aggressive," said the scout. "The Yankees are just taking advantage of that."
Completely. New York starter Kenny Rogers didn't do much, lasting only two batters into the fourth inning. But he never gave in to the Orioles, never gave them anything to hit even after the Yankees took early leads of 2-0 and 5-2. He went to a full count on six of the first nine hitters he faced.
Leading off the third inning Hoiles accomplished a feat that no Oriole had managed to do in all of Game 3 against Jimmy Key: He hit the ball to the opposite field, something other than a pop-up. Hoiles drove his first homer of the postseason, making the score 3-2.
Zeile and Roberto Alomar hit one-out singles, and reliever Brian Boehringer began throwing in the bullpen for New York. When pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre began walking to the mound to talk to Rogers, the pitcher immediately glanced over his shoulder at the bullpen, to see if there somebody was warming up. Pavlov's dog wouldn't have responded more appropriately.
But after going to a full count on Rafael Palmeiro, Rogers threw a ball down and out of the strike zone, and Palmeiro swung and missed. Bonilla grounded out, killing the rally.
Paul O'Neill hit a two-run homer off Coppinger in the top of the fourth, and New York led 5-2. The Orioles started the bottom of the fourth with a Cal Ripken walk, and single by Pete Incaviglia, the latter finishing Rogers for the day (he left the mound with the tune of "You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me, Lucille" blaring over the public address system).
B. J. Surhoff singled home a run against David Weathers, the eventual winning pitcher, and a Hoiles grounder scored another, but Brady Anderson and Todd Zeile grounded out, and the Orioles still trailed 5-4.
They had a great chance to tie the game in the bottom of the fifth, after Roberto Alomar led off with a double, but Palmeiro flied to left -- committing the baseball sin of failing to advance Alomar.
When Bonilla followed with his best contact of the whole series, a deep drive to center, only then could Alomar tag up and move to third. Ripken grounded out to third, the 13th straight hitless at-bats with runners in scoring position and two out for the Orioles in the ALCS.
"I wouldn't say we're pressing," said hitting coach Rick Down, "but everybody wants to get the big hit."
He paused. "Maybe that is pressing."
Zeile added: "Everybody wants to get the key hits and get us the runs. I think that [anxiousness at the plate] has a tendency to happen."
It did again in the eighth inning, after the Yankees scored three runs -- two on Strawberry's second homer -- to take an 8-4 lead.
The greatest home run hitting team would send up three batters with a chance to tie the game with one swing of the bat; the Oriole Park crowd, having seen this happen time and again this year, began to rise and shout.
Hoiles struck out swinging. Rivera got ahead of Anderson one ball and two strikes and threw him a pitch eye-high, and Anderson swung and missed, for the second out. Zeile popped out, Camden Yards groaned collectively and the exits quickly filled.
"I had to reach back for a little bit extra and I did," said Rivera, who turned the game over to Yankees closer John Wetteland for a 1-2-3 ninth.
The Orioles' clubhouse was tense after the game, Bonilla ordering a reporter away from his locker -- "I've been [terrible], that's it, just write that, now get away," he said -- before he quietly answered questions.
As Coppinger, who gave up three of the homers and six hits in 5 1/3 innings, spoke to reporters, David Wells, his mentor, called one query dumb.
The Orioles have no more margin for error, and the Yankees have a way of exposing their weaknesses and exploiting them.
Once upon a time, in July, the Yankees charged into Camden RTC Yards, swept the Orioles in four games and changed the way the front office and the town of Baltimore viewed the O's. Temporarily, anyway.
They can do it again today, scar the '96 Orioles.
Pub Date: 10/13/96