As soon as Cal Ripken's bases-loaded single got through the left side of the Anaheim Angels' infield, giving the Baltimore Orioles a dramatic 8-7 victory in the bottom of the 11th inning, Orioles Manager Ray Miller sprinted from the dugout and ran to third base, where Albert Belle had just touched the bag and was turning to join his teammates in celebration.
What Miller did to Belle may have looked like a hug, but actually was more like a restraining hold. "I thought he was going to be right in the middle of [the Angels'] dugout," Miller explained. "He's quite a strong man."
It was that kind of dramatic, emotion-packed day at Camden Yards. By the time it was over, Ripken had collected his 399th career home run, the game-winning hit and a headache; the Orioles' bullpen had strung together seven no-hit innings; Miller possibly had prevented a brawl; Belle had hit three homers, including one in the ninth inning off Angels closer Troy Percival that tied the score, and the Orioles had won their sixth consecutive game.
"We're still in [the playoff race]. We dug ourselves a hole and we have to dig out," Belle said, speaking to the local media for the first time since the first day of spring training. "We have a lot of ground to cover. We have our work cut out for us."
Belle was not in quite so reflective a mood a few minutes earlier, after being drilled by the first pitch from Angels reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa with one out and a runner on first in the bottom of the 11th. Belle at first refused to budge, saying he wanted to stay and hit.
"I don't speak Japanese, so [Hasegawa] couldn't understand what I was yelling at him," Belle said. "So I told [catcher Matt] Walbeck to go out there and tell him in Japanese to throw the ball over the plate. . . . I said, `Let me stay and hit. I'll give him ball one.' "
The crowd of 44,724 chanted "Albert! Albert!" but eventually the collective efforts of Miller and umpire Ed Hickox persuaded Belle to trot to first base without incident.
Miller and Belle "had a deal early in the year -- `If I get my hands on you, you have to calm down,' " Miller said. "He's a very volatile person. I said, `I'll never put my hands on you unless it's a situation where I need you to control yourself.' He's a very strong man. He could go out there and wreck everybody and be [suspended] for a month. . . . I just didn't want him to go out there and kill [Hasegawa]."
But Belle said he never intended to charge the mound. "Ray thought I wanted to go to the mound, but I wanted to stay and hit," Belle said. "I knew we were short of players. I was not going to disappoint my teammates. I wasn't going to charge and get thrown out."
The next batter, left fielder Jeff Conine, flied out to left field, drawing a sigh of relief from Miller. "If Conine had hit a ground ball," Miller said, "there would've been a dead middle infielder."
After Will Clark drew a walk to load the bases, Ripken fought back from an 0-2 count, fouled off two 3-2 pitches, then lined a fastball to left field to end the game.
An inning earlier, Ripken had been drilled in the helmet by Percival. "A deflecting shot, which I'm thankful for," said Ripken, who was still bothered by a headache after the game.
Miller said the pitches that hit Ripken and Belle -- plus two brushback pitches that decked B.J. Surhoff -- will be "duly noted and recorded." Although the Angels have lost 10 in a row, "That doesn't give them the right to try to hurt people," Miller said.
Angels Manager Terry Collins denied the Angels intentionally threw at Belle in the 11th, but wanted to pitch him inside. "We threw [Belle] three pitches over the plate, and he hit all three of them out," Collins said. "You think we're going to hit someone and put the winning run on second, with Conine, Clark and Ripken coming up? No way."
The wild ending overshadowed what was nearly a perfect day by every member of the Orioles except starting pitcher Sidney Ponson, who gave up all seven of the Angels' runs in four-plus innings -- his shortest outing since his first start of the season on April 9.
Among the players who helped keep the Orioles in the game were Conine, who took away two possible home runs with leaping catches at the left field wall in the first two innings; and relievers Doug Johns, Al Reyes, Jesse Orosco and Scott Kamieniecki, who held the Angels hitless after Johns allowed an RBI single to the first batter he faced in the fifth. Kamieniecki (1-3) earned his first win since April 18, 1998.
But Belle's home runs -- a two-run shot off Chuck Finley in the first, a three-run shot off Mark Petkovsek in the seventh and the bases-empty blast off Percival with two outs in the ninth that sent the game into extra innings -- almost single-handedly brought the Orioles back from deficits of 3-0 and 7-3. Percival had converted 23 of 24 save chances this season.
"From across the field [as an opponent], I kind of hated Albert Belle," Miller said. "And he has had some pretty harsh things written about him this year. But he's a great run-producer and a great competitor. He plays hard every day and tries to beat your tail, and he never makes excuses. I like players like that."