The Baltimore Orioles received two home runs from Albert Belle today. They held a three-run lead through six innings. Their starting pitcher carried them into the eighth. They put five runners on base in the ninth. That the Orioles still managed to lose this game says much about their miserable season.
At the same time, the Cleveland Indians' come-from-behind 7-6 victory today in front of 40,540 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards says much about their strength and their potential to play deep into October. The Indians, who own the American League's best record, won the season series against the Orioles, 9-1.
Despite being without David Justice, Sandy Alomar Jr., Harold Baines, Wil Cordero and Travis Fryman, the Indians scored seven runs in the seventh and eighth innings, giving them 30 runs in the four-game series.
No. 7 hitter Alex Ramirez -- the other Ramirez in the Indians' lineup -- hit a two-run homer off starter Doug Johns in the seventh, and a three-run triple off Al Reyes in the eighth to bring the Indians back from a 3-0 deficit.
"That's one problem this club has had all year," said Orioles Manager Ray Miller. "[Numbers] seven, eight and nine have done an awful lot of damage to us. . . . When we go over hitters, we say we don't want to give in to this guy [Ramirez]. We told [Reyes] this guy has trouble with breaking balls. We were expecting a breaking ball. But he threw a fastball."
After Belle's second homer, his 32nd of the season, drew the Orioles to 7-4 in the eighth, the Orioles battered closer Mike Jackson for two runs in the ninth on three straight singles by the bottom of the lineup and an error on first baseman Jim Thome.
But with the potential winning runs on first and second, Jackson got B.J. Surhoff to hit into a game-ending double play.
Despite the seven extra-base hits -- including two doubles by American League RBI leader Manny Ramirez, who is not related to Alex -- and the admirable starting pitching from Johns (4-3) and Cleveland's Dave Burba (13-7), the biggest plays in the game were a pair the Orioles failed to make.
The first came in the top of the eighth with the score tied at 3, when left-hander Jesse Orosco entered in relief of Johns to face former Oriole Robbie Alomar with Dave Roberts on second and one out. Alomar was 0 for 10 in his career against Orosco entering today.
But Orosco stopped paying attention to Roberts at second, and he bolted to third for a stolen base. With the go-ahead run at third, the Orioles drew in the infield, and Alomar laced a single past shortstop Mike Bordick to give the Indians the lead they never relinquished. From there, the Indians loaded the bases against Reyes, setting up Alex Ramirez's bases-clearing triple.
Orosco's gaffe was a major turning point, said Miller, "especially with everybody in the dugout telling him to make [Roberts] stop taking such a huge lead." On the pitch before Roberts's steal, he had taken off for third, but lost his footing and retreated to second.
"It was my fault," Orosco said. "I didn't want to look back [at Roberts]."
The second turning point came in the Orioles' aborted rally in the ninth. With runners on first and second, a run in and nobody out, Bordick bunted too hard on a sacrifice attempt, allowing Jackson to pounce off the mound and nip the runner at third. The next batter was Surhoff. After that was Belle.
"If we get that bunt down," Miller said, "we're in the driver's seat. . . . There were all kinds of could-have-beens in that game."
"Obviously it wasn't a good enough bunt," Bordick said, "but he got off the mound pretty quick."
With the loss, the Orioles fell to 11-22 in one-run games and 7-22 against the AL's three division leaders (Cleveland, New York and Texas), evidence that the Orioles don't have the weapons to win close games and contend with the league's elite teams.
"Early on, we played well enough, but it was a matter of a hit here or there," Bordick said. "But those added up, and you end up losing a lot of games by one or two runs. It proves that every inning matters."