A game of ironic twists and wicked turns came down to something simple: Baltimore Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick knocking a nasty breaking pitch to right field for the game-winning single in the bottom of the 10th inning, sending the Orioles to a redemptive 7-6 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies that was sometimes spine-tingling, sometimes stomach-turning.
Bordick's single off reliever Steve Montgomery with two outs scored Will Clark from second base. Clark had walked to launch the two-out rally, and went to second on a single by third baseman Jeff Reboulet -- who had scored the tying run in the ninth as a pinch runner.
"Hopefully, this was a game to grow on," said subdued manager Ray Miller. "I'm going to turn the page."
In the course of a frantic ninth inning, the game turned from a tidy, well-pitched contest to a battle of beleaguered bullpens. The Orioles (21-33) imploded first; then, the Phillies.
Orioles left-hander Arthur Rhodes was brought in for the ninth to save a victory for Sidney Ponson. But Rhodes, who had been handed the job of co-closer when Miller decided he no longer could trust Mike Timlin, didn't have the strike zone when he came in and never found it. As Miller and the Orioles watched in horror, Rhodes walked the bases loaded on 13 pitches, many of which were nowhere near the strike zone.
"It's a precarious role" for Rhodes, Miller said. "He's never really been there [in the role of closer] before. . . . I'd put him right back in the same situation [Sunday]."
So in an ironic twist, Miller turned to Timlin to bail out the Orioles. For a closer running short on confidence, it was a frightening situation: Bases loaded, nobody out, two-run lead. Timlin came within one pitch of redemption.
After coaxing a double play out of Mike Leiberthal, on which a run scored, Timlin got ahead of Rob Ducey with two strikes. But after fouling off an 0-2 sinker, Ducey hit the next one out of the park to left-center, sucking all the life out of the crowd of 48,531 -- the largest regular season crowd in Camden Yards history.
"I was pretty upset -- real upset," Timlin said. "I was mad at myself. . . . It bugs me because I made a dumb mistake. It was a decent pitch. But it was not a good 0-2 pitch."
Suddenly down, 6-5, the Orioles scratched out a run in the bottom of the inning, loading the bases against right-hander Wayne Gomes and left-hander Yorkis Perez, then tying the game when second baseman Delino DeShields beat Perez to the bag on a tapper to first base for an RBI infield single.
While the Orioles were batting in the ninth, another drama was taking place in the tunnel that leads to the Orioles' clubhouse. Timlin was raging, asking "Why me?" and beating himself up over Ducey's homer.
Miller sent pitching coach Bruce Kison to calm Timlin, and according to Timlin and Miller, this is what Kison screamed at him: "We're going to tie this thing up, and you're going back out there."
That's exactly how it happened, and Timlin (2-4) retired the Phillies in the top of the 10th to get the win.
"I don't deserve anything," Timlin said. "I'm not going to pat myself on the back. The game should've been over."
Although it seemed like a distant memory by the time the late-inning theatrics were over, Ponson turned in a valiant effort -- with the exception of one notable lapse. He allowed three earned runs and struck out a career-high seven batters in eight sometimes-brilliant innings.
His breakdown came in the fifth, when he gave up a two-run homer, then lost his composure, walking the next two batters on nine angry fastballs and giving up a game tying double to Doug Glanville on an 0-2 pitch.
Ponson was still throwing 98-mph fastballs in the eighth, but he had thrown 121 pitches by the time the inning was over -- too many to justify sending him back out for the ninth, especially with Rhodes ready and two left-handed batters due up.
"I wasn't going to let him throw 135 or 140 pitches and blow out his arm in the ninth inning," Miller said. "If he gets in trouble, I'm going to bring in Rhodes anyway. I chose to let Rhodes start the inning."
Harold Baines's 2,700th career hit gave the Orioles a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the sixth, driving in Albert Belle, who had reached on an error by shortstop Desi Relaford and moved to second on Carlton Loewer's third wild pitch of the game. It was the second RBI of the game for the ageless, timeless Baines, who leads the club in RBI at age 40.
CAPTION: Rob Ducey, left, arrives home to congratulations from Ron Gant after hitting a two-run home run to give the Philadelphia Phillies the lead in the ninth inning.(Photo ran in an earlier edition)
CAPTION: Orioles' B.J. Surhoff, left, congratulates Will Clark after Clark scored from second base on Mike Bordick's two-out single in the bottom of the 10th inning.