Orioles put in deep hole Yankees power 4 homers, 3 off Coppinger, to put O's one loss from elimination; Still winless vs. Yanks here; Frustration mounts as O's load bases with no outs, don't score in 8th; AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Once upon a time, in July, the New York Yankees charged into Camden Yards, swept the Orioles and changed the way the front office and the town of Baltimore viewed the O's. Temporarily, anyway.

The Yankees are doing it again, exposing every Orioles weakness. The Yankees, moving runners and hitting in the clutch and doing everything the Orioles aren't doing, won Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, 8-4, last night. Darryl Strawberry slammed two of four homers hit by New York, which needs only to win one of the next three games to finally shelve the '96 Orioles for good.

Scott Erickson pitches to save the season for the Orioles today in Game 5, against Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte. The Orioles are 0-12 in games started by New York left-handers this season, and they are 0-8 against the Yankees in Camden Yards.

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.

The Yankees got some help from a 12-year-old kid to win Game 1, and a late-inning comeback to win Game 3. Last night, they merely bludgeoned Orioles rookie Rocky Coppinger and Co. Strawberry hit the last of the four New York homers in the top of the eighth to cap a three-run rally and give New York an 8-4 lead.

The Orioles started the bottom of the eighth inning with three straight singles, loading the bases against Mariano Rivera. But the Yankees setup man set down the Orioles, Chris Hoiles striking out, Brady Anderson whiffing on a chin-high fastball, and Todd Zeile popping out. The Orioles are hitting .103 with runners in scoring position in this series (3-for-29) and are 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

Sixteen days had passed since Coppinger's last appearance, and the obvious worry for the Orioles was whether the rookie might be either anxious or too strong, from the weeks of idle time.

Whether it was nerves or the rust, Coppinger pitched badly at the outset. Derek Jeter led off the game with a double down the right-field line, a replica of his hit against Mike Mussina in Game 3, and advanced to third on a fly to center.

Coppinger threw a first-pitch fastball to Bernie Williams for a strike, and came back with a slider that spun over the heart of the plate. Boom. Williams' two-run bomb landed in the very back of the temporary seats behind the right-field scoreboard. It was as if the Yankees' eighth-inning rally against Mussina had never stopped.

If Pettitte pitched for the Yankees, or Jimmy Key, you might've been tempted to write off Game 4 for the Orioles. But with Kenny Rogers on the mound, anything was possible. Even with a lead, Rogers flat refused to throw strikes; of the first nine Orioles he faced, he went to a full count on six.

Rogers walked Anderson to open the bottom of the first, and Anderson came around to score on a sacrifice fly by Rafael Palmeiro.

It didn't take the Yankees long to get that run back, however. Coppinger threw a first-pitch fastball to Strawberry leading off the second, then came back with something off-speed, this time a changeup -- same sequence as he pitched to Williams -- and Strawberry ripped a liner over the scoreboard, pushing the New York lead to 3-1.

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.

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 was somebody was warming up. Pavlov's dog wouldn't have responded more appropriately.

But Palmeiro struck out and Bobby Bonilla, mired in a deep postseason slump, grounded into a fielder's choice.

The Yankees came back with two runs in the fourth, with two outs. Strawberry, who had homered in his only at-bat against Coppinger before last night's game, singled up the middle at the end of a tough seven-pitch at-bat, and Paul O'Neill drove a two-run homer into the stands in left-center.

The Yankees got another hit and a walk in the inning but didn't score, and as the rally ended, Coppinger screamed angrily in the direction of Yankees first base coach Jose Cardenal and the final hitter of the fourth, Jeter. Coppinger continued to yell from the dugout -- probably some of his frustration stemming from the Orioles' 5-2 deficit.

Too much prosperity for Rogers, who continued to be the Orioles' salvation. Three runs ahead, he walked Cal Ripken to open the bottom of the fourth, and David Weathers started warming up. Ripken advanced on a wild pitch, and Pete Incaviglia plunked a single into right-center, with Ripken stopping at third.

That was enough for Yankees manager Joe Torre, who called for Weathers. As Rogers departed, a hit song of the country and western performer Kenny Rogers blared over the public address system: You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me Lucille.

Benched for exactly 3 1/2 innings, B. J. Surhoff pinch-hit for Mike Devereaux and singled through the first base hole, scoring Ripken and pushing Incaviglia to third. Hoiles grounded out and both runners advanced and the Orioles were within a run.

But their offense stalled. Anderson grounded out to second and Zeile grounded out to short.

Alomar ripped a double into the corner leading off the fifth, the potential lead run in scoring position. But Weathers pitched Palmeiro to the outside part of the plate, trying to keep him from pulling the ball to the right side and advancing Alomar, and Palmeiro flied to left.

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. Baseball sins that are rarely forgiven, and never in October.

Pub Date: 10/13/96

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