Suddenly, Orioles on brink Indians' Alomar wins it in 9th; O's one loss from elimination


CLEVELAND -- They used to call it the Mistake by the Lake. Now, Cleveland has a revitalized civic center, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, if the Orioles don't figure something out in a hurry, soon will have a second American League pennant in three years.

Catcher Sandy Alomar hit a dramatic, game-winning single off Armando Benitez in the bottom of the ninth inning last night to send the Orioles to an 8-7 defeat and push them to the brink of elimination in the American League Championship Series. The victory gave the Indians a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven playoff and put them in position to win the pennant tonight at Jacobs Field.

It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out the obvious. The Orioles have to win three games in a row to advance to the World Series. That has been done before, but it is not a position anyone in Baltimore ever envisioned when the Orioles were going wire-to-wire to win the American League East title.

"There have been very few teams that have come back from a 3-1 deficit," said Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson, "but the way this series is going, I wouldn't be surprised at anything that happens."

The Orioles became the eighth team in ALCS history to lose three of the first four games in the best-of-seven format. Only two teams -- the 1985 Kansas City Royals and the 1986 Boston Red Sox -- have rallied to win the championship series and reach the World Series.

In baseball postseason history, eight teams have come back from 3-1 deficits to win best-of-seven series.

"Somebody's messing with fate," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson, "but we're not out of it. We've got a good ballclub, and we've bounced back before. I believe in this ballclub. I've seen stranger things happen. Don't tell me about fate taking their hand. We've got a ways to go yet."

Right-hander Scott Kamieniecki is scheduled to take the mound tonight against Cleveland's Chad Ogea, hoping to push the series back to Oriole Park at Camden Yards and put it back in the hands of pitching ace Mike Mussina for Game 6. But the Indians clearly have the market cornered on October magic and momentum.

It started out to be feel-good night for the Orioles, who tied a playoff record when Anderson, Harold Baines and Rafael Palmeiro homered in the third inning to stake starter Scott Erickson to an early lead. But the Indians -- who have been finding ways to bounce back throughout the postseason -- battled back to tie the game, then took advantage of another strange play at the plate to take a two-run lead in the fifth.

Once again, the Orioles were unable to contain the Indians' run-and-don't-shoot offense. They took the lead on a two-run wild pitch that left catcher Lenny Webster trying to explain himself for the second night in a row.

He was the guy who took the fall in Game 3, when Omar Vizquel blew a suicide-squeeze play and Webster let the pitch get by him to allow the winning run to score in the 12th inning.

This time, it was a bases-loaded wild pitch by reliever Arthur Rhodes that turned into two runs when Webster picked up the ball and threw it wildly back to the plate.

The first run wasn't Webster's fault. The second run probably was. His toss back to Rhodes at the plate hit runner David Justice and rolled away. Then Webster was slow to pursue the ball as Sandy Alomar streaked from second to score.

"I couldn't get to it," Webster said. "Arthur was closer to it. I guess you just have to give the guy credit for a good base-running play. I did everything I could to block the pitch. Justice just made a good read."

The sellout crowd of 45,081 gave Webster credit for an assist and gave him a derisive standing ovation when he came to the plate in the sixth inning.

The Orioles took some of the sting out of it when they got one of the runs back in the seventh, then fought back to tie the game in the ninth on an RBI infield single by Palmeiro. But the Indians won in the last at-bat for the second night in a row.

"We've just got to forget about it and put a good game together tomorrow," said Palmeiro. "We have to let it all hang out and see what happens. This has been a great series as far as intensity and excitement. It just hasn't gone our way."

Pub Date: 10/13/97

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