PHILADELPHIA -- It wasn't a perfect evening. Not by a long shot.
But manager Ray Miller weighed the pros and cons carefully and proclaimed that the Orioles' 5-2 extra-inning victory over the Philadelphia Phillies last night could be a sign of good things to come.
Never mind that the offense -- shut out the night before -- remained dormant for nine innings.
Never mind that reliever Armando Benitez came within a few feet of giving up a game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth, or that there was no one backing up the play when Desi Relaford's two-out triple came off the right-field wall.
The Orioles got three good pitching performances and then scored three times in the 10th inning to take the rubber game of the three-game series at Veterans Stadium and Miller could finally see light at the end of a long, dark clubhouse tunnel.
"If we play like that all year," he said, "we'll win a lot of games. You've got to grind it out. It's a long season."
First baseman Rafael Palmeiro must have been reading from the same script. He was the one who drove in the decisive run after utility man Jeff Reboulet bounced a leadoff double off the warning track in right-center field and Brady Anderson moved him to third with a single. Big hits all, and B. J. Surhoff added a two-run single just to make sure that Benitez would not have to strain to record his second victory in three 1998 decisions.
"We've been struggling," Palmeiro said. "We hadn't scored very many runs the last couple of nights, but Alan Mills and Benitez did a great job, and Scott Erickson pitched great. When you get good pitching like that, you're going to give yourself a chance to win a lot of games.
"We didn't score many runs. We didn't get many hits. But we pitched well. That's what we did last year. We weren't any better [offensively] last year than we are now, but we pitched well every night. We've dug ourselves a hole, but we're climbing out of it."
The Boston Red Sox also won last night to remain seven games ahead of the Orioles in the wild-card race, but Palmeiro was so buoyed by his big hit off Phillies reliever Mark Leiter that he predicted that deficit will disappear.
"What are we, six or seven games out?" he said. "It doesn't matter about the Yankees. The thing is to get in [the playoffs]. Right now, I think we are as good or better than the Red Sox."
Erickson has been the most consistent pitcher in the rotation, and he threw another strong game last night, giving up two runs on eight hits over 7 1/3 innings, but Scott Rolen's eighth-inning RBI double tied the game and robbed him of a chance to record his seventh victory of the year.
Mills came on to throw one pitch in a tense first-and-third, one-out situation, and got catcher Mike Lieberthal to bounce back to the mound for an easy double play to end the inning.
Benitez pitched two scoreless innings, his only serious mistake the long fly ball by Relaford that slammed right fielder Jesus Tavarez into the wall.
"We've played most of the year without a long man," Miller said, "but when we get to our four guys in the late innings, we still match up well against anybody."
Don't be fooled. The Orioles just looked as if they were playing National League baseball the past two nights. It was not intentional.
OK, so Miller pulled a double switch and Erickson scored a run, but last night's victory over the Phillies was not so much NL baseball at its best as it was the Orioles offense remaining at rest until the game had run into overtime.
By the fifth inning, the Orioles had to be wondering if the Phillies had gotten a pitching transplant. The Phillies entered the series ranked 12th in the National League in team ERA and lost ground during a 14-run flare-up on Monday night, but three Philadelphia pitchers combined on a three-hit shutout Tuesday, and right-hander Tyler Green gave up just two hits through the first four innings last night.
The same team that had gone 128 games without being shut out before Greg Maddux turned the trick on Sunday went 13 consecutive innings without scoring against a group of far less imposing pitchers.
Green had flirted with disaster in the first inning, walking Surhoff to load the bases with two outs, but got out of trouble by striking out Cal Ripken. He also got into a jam in the fourth when Surhoff lined a one-out double into the gap in right-center, but wriggled out of it when Ripken lined out to center and Lenny Webster bounced out to short.
Left to their own devices, the Orioles probably would have continued to line up zeros on the scoreboard, but finally scored a run -- through no fault of their own -- in the top of the fifth.
They did it without even swinging the bat.
Green, who had given up just two hits through 4 1/3 innings, suddenly lost sight of the strike zone and walked Erickson on four pitches. Then he walked Anderson and Eric Davis and Palmeiro. Tie score.
The next time an Orioles hitter made contact, it was back to the same old story. Second baseman Roberto Alomar, forced to swing the bat because Green finally found the plate a couple of times, bounced sharply to second and into an inning-ending double play.
The scoreless-innings streak was over, but through five innings, the Orioles were hitless in nine plate appearances with runners in scoring position and had left seven runners on base.
That left Erickson in a familiar position -- trying to hold the line while the offense struggled to get back in gear. The Orioles had scored three runs or fewer in three of his previous four starts, and again there wasn't much of a margin for error, especially on the slick Veterans Stadium carpet.
Erickson worked easily through the first inning, but Phillies first baseman Rico Brogna singled through the middle to lead off the second, and second baseman Mark Lewis delivered a two-out single to right that put Philadelphia in front by a run. The Phillies had six hits in the first four innings, but Erickson seemed to get stronger as the evening progressed.
He finally was rewarded with his first lead of the game when Green walked Mike Bordick to lead off the seventh and Harold Baines stroked a two-out RBI single off reliever Wayne Gomes.
Green had been removed from the game just minutes earlier after complaining of soreness in his left knee. He gave up two runs on three hits over 6 2/3 innings but was not involved in the decision.
Pub Date: 6/11/98