They scored a go-ahead run on a strikeout, avoided a potentially ruinous rally on a line drive that hit a runner, and finally won in the bottom of the ninth inning on Fernando Lunar's sacrifice fly to second base. The Orioles did all of those things to beat the Minnesota Twins, 3-2, before an announced crowd of 41,959 at Camden Yards.
And Cal Ripken bunted twice.
Just as unusual as pinch runner Brady Anderson tagging from third base for the winning run against retreating Twins second baseman Luis Rivas, Ripken's two bunt attempts - once mistakenly on a 3-1 count and another against a left-handed pitcher - confirmed what was already known to be a shifting role. It needn't be considered a cataclysmic event, however, said manager Mike Hargrove.
The drama colored a soggy game in which Sidney Ponson pitched 6 1/3 reassuring innings in his third start since exiting the disabled list, Mike Trombley (2-1) pitched 2 2/3 innings of shutout relief, and the Orioles won a series from the small-market, big-surprise 29-13 Twins.
Anderson, working late in the newfangled role of bench player, decided to attempt the play as soon as he saw Rivas retreating.
"If he has to go back even a little bit, it's going to take him another half-second to set himself and make a play," said Anderson, who tagged despite a field made slick by an afternoon rain.
"I was surprised. But he read it well," said second baseman Jerry Hairston, who watched the play unfold from the on-deck circle. "The second baseman was backpedaling. It was one thing if he was able to set his feet before making the catch.
"But it was a great play by Brady. When Lunar hit it, I was already preparing myself to hit. I never thought Brady would be going."
Rivas looped a throw that didn't challenge Anderson, giving the Orioles their fifth win in seven games.
"I guess you could say we stole one, but I thought it was more a situation where Sidney did a nice job and [Twins starter Mark] Redman did a nice job," Trombley said.
The Orioles tried every way possible to win, including asking their most storied player to sacrifice twice.
The Twins took a 1-0 lead on Jason Maxwell's second home run since 1998. The Orioles tied the game on Jeff Conine's fourth-inning double and took a 2-1 lead when Redman struck out Melvin Mora on a pitch that bounced past catcher A. J. Pierzynski. The potentially inning-ending strikeout allowed Conine to score from third base instead.
The Twins' promising seventh inning against Ponson died when, with runners at first and second, one out and one run already in, pinch hitter Matt Lawton lined a certain base hit off the base runner at first, Pierzynski. Though the play was scored a single, Pierzynski was called out for interference and the other runners not allowed to advance. Trombley secured the final out on a ground ball.
With no one out and Mora at first base in the bottom of the inning, Ripken carried a .217 average to the plate but had driven the ball to the warning track against an inward breeze in his first bat, then singled sharply on a high, inside pitch in his second plate appearance.
Waiting for him was Twins reliever Hector Carrasco, whom Ripken victimized for his 3,000th hit 13 months ago in Minnesota. The two right-handed hitters that followed Ripken - Mike Kinkade and Lunar - had a combined 214 career major-league at-bats.
Ripken had not successfully sacrifice-bunted since June 16, 1999, when he was batting .336.
Ripken took two pitches for a 1-1 count. Asked to bunt, he squared twice but took pitches to advance the count to 3-1. Anticipating the play would be wiped off in a strong hitters' count, Ripken stared toward third-base coach Tom Trebelhorn, glanced briefly toward Hargrove in the dugout, then returned his gaze to the third-base coaching box.
Hargrove thought the bunt was removed.
"He missed the sign. He was supposed to swing away, 3-1. He missed the take-off sign." Hargrove said. "He was bunting up to 3-1."
Ripken admitted to "a miscommunication" but said when he signaled Trebelhorn to repeat the sign if still on, Trebelhorn did so.
"I was just trying to get clarity on the bunt," Ripken said. "Sometimes you change your signs when other teams come up. Sometimes we as a group get confused with our own signs. Maybe that was one of those times."
Ripken squared for a third time, not even waiting for Carrasco to begin his delivery. He deposited a perfectly-placed bunt to easily advance Mora into scoring position while generating tactical questions Hargrove has rarely faced this season.
"We were trying to get the man to second base. Cal was the hitter. We needed one run. So we bunted," Hargrove said matter-of-factly, adding, "To make it any more than that is making a mountain out of a mole hill. I know how every time we do something different with Cal, the next thing you know it's headlines. ... There was no friction between Cal and I. He did it. He's a team player."
Hargrove is well aware of the scrutiny attached to Ripken. But he also perceives its excesses.
"I don't want to see headlines: 'Earthquake in Baltimore - 8.2 on the Richter scale. Ripken's asked to bunt.' It's an everyday part of baseball," he said. "Cal hadn't bunted in a long time. He laid down a beautiful bunt."
During a 21-year Hall of Fame career, Ripken had sacrifice-bunted successfully only eight times, including three times in 1999. Though tactically correct, the move involved a player with 419 career home runs, 3,096 hits and in the midst of a transition from an everyday player to one recently told of his part-time status. More significant at the time, Ripken also holds the all-time record by hitting into 342 double plays.
"That was what the situation called for. It's what the manager wants you to do," Ripken said. "I got one of them down and tried to get the other one down. Fortunately, I got the guy to third. It's not something I've done a lot of. I know how to do it."
The rally died despite Ripken's sacrifice. The game remained tied when Twins right-handed reliever Bob Wells walked David Segui to lead off the ninth inning, then drilled Mora to put the winning run at second base with Ripken coming to bat. After Mora received medical attention for the third time yesterday, Hargrove walked halfway to the plate with Ripken.
"I was just getting some things straight with Cal on the situation," Hargrove said.
Twins manager Tom Kelly replaced Wells with left-hander Eddie Guardado even though five consecutive right-handed hitters awaited. Hargrove remained with his original plan to again have Ripken bunt.
Ripken fouled off the first two pitches. Again free to swing away, he took two pitches before grounding to shortstop Cristian Guzman's backhand. A wet ball and clumsy footwork doomed the double play even though Ripken slipped leaving the box.