Nobody was perfect yesterday. Starting pitcher Mike Johnson gave up four runs in the first inning. Cal Ripken made two errors in the ninth. Closer Randy Myers flirted with disaster.
The game was prettier the night before -- when Mike Mussina carried a bid for a perfect game into the ninth inning -- but this one was pretty uplifting. Ripken broke Brooks Robinson's club record for career total bases with a tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning and the Orioles went on to win for the 11th time in their past 13 games, improving their record to an impressive 36-15.
"I was just happy that I hit a home run that turned out to be a timely one that gave us the lead, and we were able to win the game," Ripken said.
It was an eventful day all around for Ripken, who came into the game in an 8-for-48 (.167) slump. He drove home a run with a sacrifice fly in the third inning, homered off former teammate Jose Mesa to put the Orioles over the top in the seventh, then made a potentially game-saving defensive play when he speared a sharp grounder by David Justice that would have loaded the bases with none out in the eighth.
If only the game had ended right there, before Ripken was charged with errors on consecutive hot shots to third in the ninth inning to put the Indians into position to wipe out the three-run lead with one swing.
"Until you grab a glove and try to catch two balls that are hit very hard at you in twilight conditions " Ripken said, cutting the sentence short. "One ball skipped on me and the other came up on me. Sometimes it looks easy on TV. It's a hot corner, and it's hit or miss out there."
Myers complicated the situation further when he gave up a two-out single to pinch hitter Sandy Alomar to load the bases, but struck out big-swinging Matt Williams to record his league-leading 17th save.
The Orioles simply found another way to win. They have won close games. They have won blowouts. And they have staged comebacks like the one yesterday against Indians starter Orel Hershiser.
"We are one of those teams that find different ways to win," Ripken said. "But when you're in that situation, it's usually because your pitching allows you to do that. When you get good pitching, you win the 2-0 and 3-0 games, and then when you need a few more runs, you seem to get them."
Orioles starter Mike Johnson was thought to be making his last stand in the starting rotation, and it didn't go well. He gave up four runs on back-to-back homers by David Justice and Manny Ramirez in the first and left after Pat Borders hit the Indians' third home run with one out in the fourth.
But he might have gotten out of the first inning untouched if first baseman Rafael Palmeiro had not made a wild throw toward second base trying to complete an inning-ending double play. It was Palmeiro's first error of the season.
"The pitching faltered a little," manager Davey Johnson said, "but they shouldn't have gotten any runs in that inning. You can't give that team extra outs. I think [Mike Johnson] has done well. He's had two starts against Cleveland on irregular rest. I wouldn't wish that on a Cy Young winner. I'm pleased with the progress he's making."
Hershiser struggled early, too, but the Orioles let him off the hook after loading the bases with one out in the first. It was the kind of opportunity that doesn't come around again, but Tony Tarasco homered in the second and the Orioles scored two runs in the third and kept on coming.
"When you're playing bad, that [the squandered opportunity] can be deflating," Ripken said. "When you're going good, you can handle it a lot better. When things are going good, you just say, 'We just missed one, but we'll get the next one.' "
Mike Bordick made it a one-run game with his second home run of the season in the fourth inning and the Orioles tied the score at 5-5 on an RBI single by Roberto Alomar -- his third hit of the game -- in the sixth. Alomar reached base four straight times, but left the game in the eighth inning after experiencing a "pop" in his left shoulder during his fifth plate appearance. The incident had to throw a scare into the injury-riddled Orioles, but Alomar insisted that he was not concerned about the injury.
Hershiser went five innings and gave up four runs on nine hits, but was not involved in the decision. Mesa gave up four runs over 1 1/3 innings to fall to 0-3.
"I just stunk today," Hershiser said. "It wasn't a very good outing. I struggled with my location. I struggled with my movement and I struggled with changing speeds. There really wasn't one pitch I had. It was a matter of smoke and mirrors for as long as I stayed out there.
"It's a very hard ballpark to pitch in, with that great offensive club. If you're struggling, they don't give you much of a breather."
Almost everyone made a contribution. Ripken's homer gave him a club-record 4,274 total bases and gave the Orioles the lead. Jeffrey Hammonds made things more comfortable with a mammoth two-run homer off Mesa later in the inning. Right-hander Shawn Boskie got the victory for 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief, and improved his chances of rejoining the starting rotation.
"Boskie threw great again," Davey Johnson said. "He was really popping the ball."
The manager stopped short of saying that Boskie would replace Mike Johnson in the rotation, instead announcing that both pitchers will start in the four-game series against the Boston Red Sox on the next road trip. The series includes two rain-makeup games, including a doubleheader, so the club will need six starters over a five-day period.
"There is no need for a fifth starter because of the off day coming up," the manager said of his plans for this week. "Right now, they both are in the pen, then they both will be in the rotation. That's all I'm going to say about it."
The way things have been going, the situation will work itself out in a way that keeps the team well in front of the rest of the division. Everything Davey Johnson touches seems to turn into a victory right now.
Opponent: Cleveland Indians
Site: Oriole Park
TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM), WJFK (1300 AM)
Starters: Indians' Albie Lopez (2-3, 6.48) vs. O's Scott Erickson (8-1, 2.94)
Tickets: 2,000 remain
With his seventh-inning home run yesterday, Cal Ripken broke a tie with Brooks Robinson and became the Orioles' all-time leader in total bases. The top 10:
Player ............ Total bases
Cal Ripken-x ...... 4,274
Brooks Robinson ... 4,270
Eddie Murray ...... 3,522
Boog Powell ....... 2,748
Ken Singleton ..... 2,274
Paul Blair ........ 2,175
Al Bumbry ......... 1,883
Brady Anderson-x .. 1,706
Mark Belanger ..... 1,604
Frank Robinson .... 1,598
x -- active
Pub Date: 6/01/97