CLEVELAND -- Short on bullpen, staying power and now desperately short on time, the Orioles fell hard in an 8-7 loss to the Cleveland Indians in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series last night.
Technically, they lost in the bottom of the ninth when catcher Sandy Alomar drilled a two-out single into the left-center-field gap against Armando Benitez, scoring Manny Ramirez from second. Actually, the Orioles let their chance to even a maddening series escape four innings earlier because of a bad combination of bullpen and chaos at home plate.
Tonight manager Davey Johnson hands the ball and his team's season to Scott Kamieniecki, whose last start came Sept. 24. The Orioles still draw breath, but it is shallow. A team that couldn't win Saturday despite 15 strikeouts from its starting pitcher gave another lesson in waste.
Never mind that the Orioles received home runs from Brady Anderson, Harold Baines and Rafael Palmeiro in the same inning. It wasn't enough as Scott Erickson, pitching on three days' rest, couldn't hold a 5-2 lead.
The Orioles saved themselves by tying the game in the ninth inning for a second straight day. Offensive enigma Palmeiro hit a one-out come-backer off Indians closer Jose Mesa to score Roberto Alomar. But it wasn't enough.
They are creating heroes by the inning on the home side. The Orioles are manufacturing reasons to still believe.
"There have been only a few teams that have come back from a 3-1 deficit, but the way this series is going, I wouldn't be surprised with anything that happens," Anderson said.
The Orioles began this series believing themselves kissed by fate. How else to explain a steamroll through the Seattle Mariners and Randy Johnson? How else to explain their ability to seemingly raise the level of their play at will?
"Somebody's messing with fate. That's what I figure right now," Johnson said.
Indians manager Mike Hargrove has little use for such talk. He takes such questions as a slight to his underdog club that has often won in spite of itself this postseason. "I don't know about fate. But if it's there, we'll take it," Hargrove said.
Johnson remained typically defiant in the face of adversity. "There's a lot of strong backbone on this club. I know that losing 3-1 in games is tough," he said. "I believe in this ballclub. Momentum can change with a well-pitched game. Then we can get back home. I've seen stranger things happen. I've been two runs down with my last strike and seen things happen. Don't tell me about fate yet."
The game turned on the Indians' four-run fifth inning as Johnson went to left-hander Arthur Rhodes and stayed away from Terry Mathews. The break point came against right-handed hitter Marquis Grissom.
Mathews was warm and Rhodes in the game when Grissom approached. Rather than go with the conventional matchup, however, Johnson stayed away from a pitcher seen as jinxed. When approached about his interpretation, Mathews balked.
"You can write no comment on that. Because if you do [write something] I won't be around anymore," Mathews said.
Rhodes entered the series as a health risk. He suffered a strained flexor tendon near his left elbow during Game 3 of the Division Series and left the game unable to throw a slider, his second pitch. Rhodes hadn't attempted the pitch when he entered last night after having thrown 28 pitches Saturday. Staying with a hindered left-handed pitcher, Johnson displayed his absence of confidence in Mathews, who was hooted unmercifully from his last appearance by the Camden Yards crowd.
"I was feeling OK. I'm still feeling OK. I threw [the slider] tonight. It was good," Rhodes said.
Rhodes got ahead of Grissom with two quick strikes then fed him a high fastball for a ball. Trying to throw a changeup away, Rhodes bounced the ball in front of Webster, who deflected it to his left side.
Johnson said he had "closed the book" on Saturday's wild ending to a 2-1 loss in which a botched squeeze play translated into a run when catcher Lenny Webster failed to hold onto a Randy Myers slider. It took only five innings to happen upon the same chapter, the same page, the same line again.
David Justice scampered home as Webster awkwardly palmed a throw to Rhodes covering. The ball, Justice and Rhodes arrived at the same time with the ball bouncing off Rhodes and trickling about 10 feet away.
By now, Justice was tangled with Rhodes, who eventually escaped to retrieve Webster's error. Webster found himself in no man's land between Rhodes and the plate as third baseman Cal Ripken covered. Rhodes had to throw both over his catcher and a retreating Justice as Sandy Alomar scored from second base.
Jacobs Field danced. The Orioles, a veteran team so confident in itself that it dismissed a 13-16 September, again saw itself unraveling as a 5-2 lead had become a 7-5 deficit.
Winners of 98 games, the Orioles found themselves mocked, a standing crowd of 45,081 chanting, "Len-ny, Len-ny" when Webster came to the plate. Hargrove completed the humiliation by pounding them with his deeper, ambidextrous bullpen. Despite receiving only three innings from his starting pitcher, he used four relievers to take the game to Mesa.
Johnson's options were bad and worse. Rather than bring Rick Krivda along as his 11th pitcher, he kept his roster static for the ALCS. His 15th position player, Aaron Ledesma, has yet to appear.
The shortage of arms became apparent when Erickson followed up the previous night's epic with a ruinous 4 2/3 -inning appearance.
Oriole-killer Justice began a two-run second inning with a hard single to right field. Williams followed with a scorched drive to right-center field. Fully extended, Anderson robbed Williams of extra bases with a dive to his left.
Anderson's play saved Erickson a run as Sandy Alomar drove his second pitch to center field for a two-run homer and a 2-1 lead.
Left fielder Brian Giles continued the punishment against Erickson with a sliced double into the left-field corner. Pitching coach Ray Miller visited the mound to administer a stern lecture. Erickson responded by escaping the inning.
The Orioles entered Game 4 batting only .210 with eight runs in three games. They entered their third at-bat having scored in only two of the last 18 innings.
Thank Chief Wahoo for powerball.
Forgeting all their tall talk about situational hitting, advancing runners and playing for one run, the Orioles brought their big swings against the 21-year-old rookie who had dominated the New York Yankees twice during the Division Series. Jaret Wright was the perfect tonic for a lineup that detests soft-tossing finesse pitchers. He had consistently burned the Yankees on high fastballs but the Orioles were waiting.
Slamming their way to a four-run third inning, the Orioles became only the third team in playoff history to slam three homers in the same inning.
The barrage occurred within a span of five hitters and began when Anderson homered on Wright's first pitch with one out.
The Orioles didn't stop with a 2-2 tie. A walk to Roberto Alomar preceded Baines turning on Wright for a two-run homer.
The rally even carried along slumping Palmeiro. Trapped in a horrendous slump that had left him without an RBI in 26 postseason at-bats, Palmeiro ripped the inning's third home run immediately after Baines.
Suddenly ahead 5-2, the Orioles were rid of Wright as Hargrove replaced him with left-hander Brian Anderson, the Indians' 11th pitcher who was added to the roster only hours before Game 1.
When asked if he required an 11th pitcher, Johnson insisted any team needing such help in a short series had little chance. Last night, the Indians had zero chance without Anderson, who held the Orioles while his offense erupted.
The Indians pulled within 5-3 in the fourth when Giles doubled for the second time with two outs and Marquis Grissom blooped a single in front of Anderson.
Johnson had gone through his bullpen in Saturday's 12-inning loss, almost resorting to Jimmy Key as a stopgap. Without an 11th pitcher, he was forced to nurse Erickson through the middle innings. It proved disastrous.
The Indians began their fifth-inning turnaround when Ramirez pounded a monstrous home run into the left-center-field bleachers for his third hit, pulling Cleveland within a run. Erickson was obviously laboring. He managed only five ground ball outs. And when Jim Thome and Justice followed Ramirez's blast with singles, Johnson got Rhodes and Mathews warming up.
Erickson struck out Williams on a full count to survive. He perished when Sandy Alomar singled into left-center field to score Thome for a tie game.
Johnson stayed with Erickson for 87 pitches but only a handful were of the same quality that marked his Game 1 shutout win last Thursday.
The game exploded after Johnson opted for Rhodes.
Not even the appearance of Grissom could move Johnson. Rhodes got ahead of the Indians center fielder 0-2 before throwing a ball high. Rhodes then short-hopped Webster and the flashback to Saturday night's game-ending chaos began. It didn't stop until Webster was on his back, two runs had scored and Ripken held the ball at the plate.
In the ninth, Alan Mills walked Manny Ramirez and gave way to Benitez, who created a first-and-second situation thanks to a sacrifice and a walk to Williams. Alomar ended it by splitting Anderson and left fielder B. J. Surhoff.
Gone, gone, gone
The Orioles tied a major-league postseason record in the third inning by hitting three home runs:
League Championship Series
Yr. .. .. .. ..Teams .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Players
'70 .. .. .. .O's vs. Minnesota .. .. .. ..Cuellar, Buford, Powell
'96 .. .. .. .New York (A) vs. O's .. .. ..Leyritz, Fielder, Strawberry
'97 .. .. .. .N.Y. (A) vs. Cleveland .. ...Raines, Jeter, O'Neill
'97 .. .. .. .O's vs. Cleveland .. .. .. ..Anderson, Baines, Palmeiro
'67 .. .. .. .Boston vs. St. Louis .. .. ..Yastrzemski, Smith, Petrocelli
After pitching to an 3.86 ERA in 32 2/3 postseason innings coming into this month, Scott Erickson had been superb in the postseason this year until last night:
Postseason this year
Date .. .. ..Opp .. ..IP .. ..H .. ..ER
10/2 .. .. ..Sea .. ..6 2/3 .. ..7 .. ...3
10/8 .. .. ..Cle .. ..8 .. ...4 .. ...0
10/12 .. .. .Cle .. ..4 2/3 .. .11 .. ...6
Tot. .. .. .. .. .. .19 1/3 .. .22 .. ...9
Yr .. .. .. .Opp. .. .IP .. ..H .. ..ER
'91 .. .. ...Atl. ...10 2/3 .. .10 .. ...6
'91 .. .. ...Tor. .. .4 .. ...3 .. ...2
'96 .. .. ...Cle. .. .6 2/3 .. ..6 .. ...3
'96 .. .. ...NYY. ...11 1/3 .. .14 .. ...3
Tot. .. .. .. .. .. .32 2/3 .. .33 .. ..14
Pub Date: 10/13/97