On a night Manny Ramirez smashed 829 feet worth of mammoth home runs off Scott Erickson, the difference between victory and defeat for the Baltimore Orioles was a matter of inches, spread out over a handful of crucial plays. And the fact that Roberto Alomar had a part in two of them only makes tonight's 6-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians tougher to stomach.
Orioles left-hander Jesse Orosco relieved Erickson after Ramirez's second homer. It was Orosco's 1,071st pitching appearance, tying him with Dennis Eckersley for the most career games pitched.
Alomar, who departed Baltimore as a free agent after last season, scored two runs, stole a base, drove in the game-winning run with a single in the eighth inning and ended the game with a spectacular diving, spinning, falling play in the hole on Brady Anderson's grounder.
"One of the best plays I've ever seen to end a game," Orioles Manager Ray Miller said.
"After I caught it I didn't know where I was," Alomar said. "I just threw the ball to first base with my instincts. It was an amazing play."
"There are a lot of second basemen who could field that ball," Anderson said, "but no one who could throw it like that right on the base."
Ramirez, the major league RBI leader with 120, hit a pair of two-run homers off Erickson (8-10). The second, which came on an 0-2 pitch, followed Alomar's single and gave the Indians a 6-3 lead.
"There's not a whole lot of people in the middle of the order who you can pitch around," Miller said. "We were trying not to give him anything to hit."
In this game of inches, some of the biggest plays of the game clanked out of the Orioles' gloves and nestled into the Indians' -- such as the running, leaping, wall-slamming catch that Indians left fielder Richie Sexson made in the fifth on Mike Bordick's drive, which saved two runs.
Orioles rookie third baseman Ryan Minor paved the way for the Indians' winning rally in the eighth, booting rookie Dave Roberts's grounder to lead off the inning.
Omar Vizquel sacrificed Roberts to second, then Alomar lined a 2-2 pitch into right field, where Albert Belle charged, but pulled up at the last second and took the ball on one hop. Belle made a strong throw home, but Roberts dived in ahead of the tag, pumping his fists as he bounced off the ground.
Two pitches before Alomar's game-winning hit, he foul-tipped a 2-2 pitch that catcher Charles Johnson could not squeeze.
Minor, filling in at third while Cal Ripken is on the disabled list, also had a part in the Indians' first run. Sexson's one-hopper down the line to open the fifth bounced out of Minor's glove, and Sexson was credited with an infield hit. He later scored with two outs on Roberts's single to right.
"Young people are going to make mistakes," Miller said. "This is a tough time for [Minor]. We thought he was a year away [from being ready] and we've had him up twice."
The Orioles' eighth-inning meltdown came just a half-inning after Belle smashed a two-run double off right-handed reliever Paul Shuey over Roberts's head in center field to bring them back from a 3-1 deficit.
Belle also drove in the Orioles' first run in the sixth inning, and, in stark contrast to his powerful double in the eighth inning, this time it came on a nifty piece of defensive hitting. Fooled by a nasty slider on the outside corner, Belle reached out and poked the ball into right field for a single that scored B.J. Surhoff, who had doubled to lead off the inning.
Ramirez's first home run came on a 2-2 fastball in the sixth, breaking a 1-1 tie. Until that point, Erickson had been pitching a masterful game. He had allowed only three soft hits -- two infield singles and a one-hopper over the head of first baseman Will Clark by Roberts in the fifth -- and had recorded only one fly-ball out to that point, a sign that his trademark sinker was on.
"Before the game, I said I didn't want to let [Ramirez] beat me," Erickson said. "But beside those two [home run] pitches, I think I did the job."