CLEVELAND -- It was a game the Orioles never should have lost.
A game they absolutely had to win.
Everything went their way in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series yesterday at Jacobs Field.
Mike Mussina gave one of the best pitching performances in club history.
A stunning fluke play enabled them to tie the score when they were on the verge of losing in the top of the ninth.
A blown call snuffed out a potential game-winning rally for the Indians in the bottom of the ninth.
A near-impossible escape by closer Randy Myers kept the game alive in the bottom of the 11th.
When that much goes your way, you have to win.
The Orioles still lost, 2-1, on an unearned run in the bottom of the 12th, giving the Indians a 2-1 lead in the series going into Game 4 tonight.
The Orioles thought they were robbed in the end when umpire John Hirschbeck ruled that Omar Vizquel didn't foul off a squeeze bunt attempt, allowing Marquis Grissom to score the winning run from third when the ball got away from Orioles catcher Lenny Webster.
But they weren't wronged at all, or so it seemed; replays indicated that Hirschbeck's call was right.
In the end, they were denied a victory only by their inability to take advantage of breaks.
It was a disaster, no less than that, to fail to take advantage of so much good fortune.
Refusing charity is the cardinal sin of October baseball.
The Orioles committed that sin several times yesterday.
Their trip to the World Series, which seemed so certain just days ago, is now in jeopardy, and they have only themselves to blame after yesterday.
"We had a lot of things go our way," Orioles reliever Jesse Orosco said. "That's what makes this such a tough loss, such a heartbreaking loss."
You can watch another thousand games and you will never see a bigger break than the fluke play that enabled the Orioles to tie the score in the ninth.
With one out and the Indians ahead 1-0, Jeff Reboulet was on second base as the potential tying run and Indians closer Jose Mesa appeared to record the inning's second out when Brady Anderson lofted a soft fly ball toward Grissom in center field.
It was a routine play for one of the game's best outfielders, but Grissom lost the ball in the dusk and it flew far over his head, landing 30 feet behind him.
"Normally, I'd wait to see if he catches it," Reboulet said, "but I could tell right away that he had no idea where it was. I started running before the ball hit the ground. It was a huge break, just a huge break."
Reboulet raced home with the tying run and the Orioles were alive.
Lucky beyond all measure -- but very much alive.
They also had a chance to go ahead in the inning, but Eric Davis fouled out and Rafael Palmeiro struck out with two runners on base.
The Indians came back and put together a potential winning rally in the bottom of the ninth, but first base umpire Durwood Merrill cut it off with a blown call.
With runners on first and second and two out, the Indians' Sandy Alomar hit a ground ball to Cal Ripken at third. The ball was hit slowly and Ripken hurriedly grabbed it and threw to first as Alomar sprinted down the line.
Merrill ruled that the throw beat Alomar to the bag, but replays indicated otherwise.
Another huge break for the Orioles.
Merrill's blown call would have made headlines had the Orioles gone on to win.
But they found a way to lose in spite of the generosity that blessed them.
In the top of the 11th, they loaded the bases with two outs and Palmeiro again struck out.
In the bottom of the 11th, Myers came on with no outs and runners on third and second, the game seemingly lost, and somehow escaped when Kevin Seitzer grounded out, David Justice lined out and Sandy Alomar struck out.
"When you see something like that happen, you start to feel like, wow, things are really going your way," Reboulet said.
How could the Orioles have lost when so much went their way?
Well, they lost because they couldn't touch the Indians' 39-year-old starter, Orel Hershiser, who shut them out over the first seven innings.
Mussina was even more brilliant, striking out 15, but the Orioles wasted the performance.
Hershiser, who had a 4.47 ERA this year, left without allowing a run for only the second time in 35 starts.
How else did they manage to lose?
Well, Palmeiro didn't come through at all as their primary run-producer, failing twice to deliver a go-ahead runner in scoring position.
In all, he struck out four times and left six runners on base.
And, of course, the bullpen gave up the winning run for the second game in a row.
The Orioles' bullpen was considered their biggest advantage coming into the series, but the Indians' bullpen is the one that hasn't allowed a run yet other than the fluke Mesa allowed in the ninth yesterday.
Meanwhile, the Orioles' bullpen has lost twice.
Armando Benitez gave up the three-run homer to Grissom in Game 2, and Myers lost yesterday.
"It was a game that went back and forth," Orosco said. "They had chances to win, and we had a lot of chances."
A whole lot of chances.
A look at how the Orioles' offense has dropped off in the postseason -- hitting .205 (34-for-166) -- after scoring 18 runs in the first two games of the Division Series:
Day Opp., R, H, SO, LOB
10/4 Sea., 2, 5, 3, 6
10/5 Sea., 3, 7, 13, 6
10/8 Cle., 3, 6, 4, 7
10/9 Cle., 4, 8, 5, 8
10/11 Cle., 1, 8, 12, 7
Tot. 13, 34, 37, 34
Pub Date: 10/12/97