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O's Hoiles strikes back in 12th, 6-4 Struck out 5 times, catcher tops Braves with 2-run double; 'Pen yields 1 hit in 6 innings; Mussina singles off Smoltz in 4: 54 classic

ATLANTA — ATLANTA -- For 11 innings, the Atlanta Braves beat on Chris Hoiles, embarrassing him with a week's worth of strikeouts and two stolen bases. But this is not a season for beating on Orioles, so it was fitting that Hoiles returned the favor in yesterday's 12th inning with the most decisive hit of a white hot series.

Hoiles began the at-bat trying to avoid tying a record for futility. He ended it by driving Joe Borowski's 0-2 pitch over slow-breaking Michael Tucker to the right-field wall, scoring Cal Ripken and Tony Tarasco for the difference in a 6-4 win.

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"It had gotten pretty ridiculous out there," Hoiles said. "It was frustrating and then it became embarrassing. No one wants to go through that."

The game almost buried Hoiles. But perhaps it lifted him instead. Before his game-winning at-bat, the Orioles catcher had struck out five consecutive times in the game, seven consecutive times dating to Friday night's fifth inning.

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In his last 10 games, Hoiles had whiffed 18 times after striking out 28 times in his first 40 games. (For about two minutes he was credited with having tied the major-league record for most strikeouts in a game. Further research revealed ex-Oriole Sam Horn, among others, had struck out six times.)

Things got so bad that Hoiles suggested that manager Davey Johnson reinsert starting pitcher Mike Mussina into the game to pinch hit for him. Mussina, who was backed by six innings of one-hit relief, had made positive history in the third inning by singling off last year's National League Cy Young Award winner, John Smoltz.

"I think it's big for us," Hoiles said of the win. "This really turned into a good game that could have gone either way. Because of that, you take special satisfaction in this win."

Interrupting a 1-for-25 slump that had dropped his average from .318 to .280, Hoiles crushed ex-Orioles farmhand Borowski's pitch for the winning runs.

Played in 4: 54, the marathon included 12 pitchers, 14 walks and 32 strikeouts -- 16 by each staff.

"I said to [umpire] Randy Marsh, 'Welcome to American League baseball,' " said Orioles manager Davey Johnson, his team now at a major-league best 44-19.

The win bumped the Orioles to 6-4 on a brutal 11-game road tour that has included their only doubleheader as well as their longest game. Yesterday's loss left the Braves (42-24) with their first three-game losing streak this year and five losses in six games. Now only the Orioles haven't had more than a two-game losing streak.

"Our pride will be on the line tomorrow," Borowski said of today's finale. "You want to be considered the best team in baseball. Baltimore is making that statement."

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Smoltz also conceded the Orioles are baseball's team of the moment and even suggested they may have more weapons.

"Cool. I wouldn't say that," said center fielder Brady Anderson, whose two-run homer in the seventh inning forced a 3-3 tie. "They could have won the last two games as easily as we did. They have a great team."

Yet the Orioles are one win away from sweeping their fifth road series. Three games they downplayed three days ago now loom as a confirmation of their adaptability to whatever opponent they may face. They are the third opponent to deal the Braves consecutive losses with Greg Maddux and Smoltz starting.

They reached the 12th inning thanks to a solid six-inning start from Mussina and a nerveless escape act by Armando Benitez in the eighth inning. Arthur Rhodes (4-2) gave his most dominant outing to date by striking out six in three hitless innings.

It remains uncertain whether yesterday's game-winner will heal Hoiles. Guilty of pulling off the ball, he earned the hat trick (three strikeouts) in seven innings, the golden sombrero (four strikeouts) in eight.

"When you pull off the ball, you pull your head off, you can't go the other way and you can't keep your hands in," said Hoiles. "It's a matter of concentration."

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When the game reached extra innings, Hoiles' struggle became an object for gallows humor. "We were trying to figure out what six strikeouts was. It's not platinum, it's not gold," said Johnson.

The game has a way of finding those struggling the most. After getting Rafael Palmeiro to fly out, Borowski walked Ripken and ++ Tarasco before reaching Hoiles.

Quickly falling behind 0-2 and within a swing of part of a record, Hoiles barely stayed alive by nicking three straight balls foul. The longer the at-bat lasted, the more that Hoiles became clued to Borowski's approach. On his third foul, Hoiles believed he had Borowski timed. On the next pitch he connected for what he thought was a home run. He happily settled for a double.

"It was a great feeling," he said. "I felt I hit the ball well. I looked up and thought it might be gone."

The game's drawn-out ending dulled what had been an eight-inning classic. Anderson denied Smoltz his first win since May 23 by driving a two-run, two-out home run into the net inside the right-field foul pole. For Anderson, his homer stopped a 3-for-20 skid.

The Braves had taken a 2-0 lead off Mussina with single runs in the first two innings. Tucker singled, stole second base, then scored when Chipper Jones' double hit the left-field line. Tucker's stolen base was the first of two against Mussina. No team had successfully stolen against him this season.

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The absence of center fielder Kenny Lofton because of back spasms has punished the Braves all series. Lofton's replacement, Andruw Jones, never put the ball in play yesterday, walking three times and striking out three times.

"That hurts them, sure. But Lofton will be back at the end of the series," Hoiles said. "We've lost Eric Davis out of the [cleanup spot] for at least three months. We've been without people all year."

Lofton was especially missed in the sixth inning when Roberto Alomar tripled over Jones in center field. It was only the Orioles' second hit and first by anyone other than Mussina. B. J. Surhoff's fly scored Alomar to pull within 2-1.

Braves catcher Javier Lopez appeared to apply a kill shot when he homered off Mussina in the sixth. Smoltz was cruising. But a high pitch count finally got to him in the seventh inning.

Mike Bordick singled and Anderson hooked his seventh home run. The Orioles took a 4-3 lead in the eighth when Palmeiro homered off left-handed reliever Alan Embree. Palmeiro was the only hitter Braves manager Bobby Cox wanted Embree to face.

The Braves nearly broke out in the eighth. Terry Mathews walked Andruw Jones to begin the inning and was replaced by Jesse Orosco, who followed with a walk to Chipper Jones, who represented the winning run. After slumping Fred McGriff flied out, Ryan Klesko singled to score Andruw Jones, tying the game.

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Benitez was summoned to stifle the rally. First asked to intentionally walk Lopez to load the bases, he fell behind Jeff Blauser 3-0 before rallying for the game's most important strikeout. Mark Lemke then flied out to end the threat. The Braves never pushed another runner into scoring position.

Orioles today

Opponent: Atlanta Braves

Site: Turner Field, Atlanta

Time: 1: 10 p.m.

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

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Starters: O's Scott Erickson (9-2, 3.47) vs. Braves' Tom Glavine (6-4, 3.13)

Pub Date: 6/15/97


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