ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Orioles had every right to be a little flat yesterday. They were on the long end of an 11-day West Coast road trip and everyone was eager to catch the charter flight back to Baltimore.
Cal Ripken had as much right as anybody, seeing as how he has played a few more games in a row than the other guys, but he had enough energy left to put a charge into the ball in the eighth inning last night and carry the club to a 4-3 victory over the Anaheim Angels at Anaheim Stadium.
The Angels could have been forgiven for being a little flat yesterday, too. They found out before the game that leadoff hitter Tony Phillips had been charged in a drug bust early yesterday and had left the team, but they hung in another tense game that had postseason implications for both teams.
The scoreboard watch has begun in earnest, especially in Anaheim, where the Angels were not expected to be in the hunt for the AL West title. They have been jockeying with the Seattle Mariners at the top of the standings, and yesterday missed a chance to go up 1 1/2 games when the Mariners lost in frustrating fashion to the Chicago White Sox.
It has not been quite so tense for the Orioles, who could do no worse than go home four games on top, which is better than they were when they started a tough 18-game stretch that included just three games at Camden Yards. They finished the nine-game trip with a 6-3 mark and went a remarkable 14-4 over what essentially was a three-week, six-city tour. The Yankees had to play very well to lose just 1 1/2 games over that period.
"It was a good win for us, no doubt about it," said Ripken, who has pulled out of a midseason slump to bat .370 in his last 15 games. "We played hard. We were in every game. If you don't win tonight, it's an OK trip. If you win tonight, it's a good trip. The last couple of wins have been kind of hard."
Left-hander Jimmy Key pitched a solid 6 2/3 innings and again was rewarded with just enough offensive support to get another no-decision. Hard-throwing Armando Benitez came on in the seventh to allow an RBI single to tie the game, then got the victory when Ripken's 14th home run sailed into the construction site behind the left-field fence at the soon-to-be refurbished Big A.
Benitez went on to pitch the eighth, then turned the game over to left-hander Randy Myers, who recorded his 34th save.
Key knows the drill. He goes out and pitches his heart out for six or seven innings, all the while waiting for the Orioles' offensive explosion that never comes.
Of course, this has not always been the case. Key got outstanding run support during the first two months of the season, and rushed out to an 11-1 record. Since he defeated the Atlanta Braves on June 13 however, the club has averaged 2.9 runs in his past 11 starts and has scored more than four runs only once, leaving him with four straight no-decisions.
Key insists that he doesn't care. He's pitching well. His arm is healthy. He'll take what comes. But a laugher wouldn't hurt once in awhile.
He pitched well enough again yesterday, giving up only a bases-empty home run to Tim Salmon through the first five innings and surrendering three runs overall, but the Orioles did not do much against right-hander Ken Hill.
Brady Anderson tied the game with his 13th home run in the third inning and the Orioles added a run in the fifth, when Mike Bordick doubled and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Jeff Reboulet.
The Orioles pulled out of a frustrating offensive slump after embarking on the three-week, 18-game ordeal that ended yesterday, but they have not really hammered the ball. They have employed a surprisingly resourceful offensive attack that included six runs on RBI outs over the final five games of the West Coast trip.
Key has not let the lack of support bother him, even though he might be making a serious run at 20 victories if he had not come up empty on a series of solid performances over the past seven weeks.
He entered yesterday's game with a 2-6 record in his last 10 starts in spite of a 3.19 ERA that may be more than a half-run higher than his season mark, but still would be low enough to stand ninth in the American League ERA rankings.
He wasn't perfect. He gave up his second home run of the game in the sixth inning -- a 421-foot bolt by rookie catcher Todd Greene -- but he did not struggle as much with his control as he did in his previous start in Seattle, where he walked four batters in the first three innings and lasted only through the fifth.
"Jimmy pitched a great game," manager Davey Johnson said. "If Jimmy had wanted to talk me out of [taking him out], he could have talked me out of it. But I'd hate to see him go to the end of his rope and then make a mistake that costs him the ballgame."
The Orioles had a chance to get Hill in the sixth when he gave up a single and two walks to load the bases for Bordick, but Angels manager Terry Collins brought on reliever Darrell May to retire the Orioles shortstop on a pop foul.
The Angels broke the tie in the bottom of the seventh on a couple of fluke hits, one of them a shot off the bat of shortstop Gary DiSarcina that caromed off Key for a leadoff single and another by Salmon that hit the bag at third base and drove in the go-ahead run after Key had given way to Benitez.
Traveling 1st class
A look at how Cal Ripken has fared this nine-game road trip:
Series .. Avg. .. H-AB .. HR .. RBI .. BB
Oak. . .. .231 .. 3-13 ... 1 .. . 2 .. 4
Sea. . .. .444 ... 4-9 ... 0 .. . 1 .. 0
Ana. . .. .500 .. 5-10 ... 1 .. . 3 .. 1
Tot. . .. .375 . 12-32 ... 2 .. . 6 .. 5
Pub Date: 8/11/97