Inspired by Taylor Swift re-releasing her own songs as (Taylor’s version), Camden Chat writers will be spending the rest of 2023 re-releasing some Orioles game recaps and giving them better endings. Next up is game six of the 1997 ALCS between Baltimore and Cleveland. You remember that game, right? Mike Mussina pitched his heart out, the Orioles hitters couldn’t capitalize on a shaky Charles Nagy, and Armando Benitez...well, let’s not speak of it.
Here is game six as it should have been.
It was win or go home for the Orioles tonight in game six of the ALCS, and win they did. With their backs to the wall they turned to team ace Mike Mussina and he gave them the dominant performance they needed. Add to that some timely hitting against Cleveland starter Charles Nagy and the end result was a clean 3-0 victory to send the series to game seven.
Mussina put together his second dominant start of the series and this time, unlike in game three, his offense came through for him. He stymied the Cleveland hitters from the get-go, retiring the first 12 batters he faced. Through four innings just one at-bat even looked mildly troublesome, a long fly ball to right field from Sandy Alomar in the third. But Geronimo Berroa pulled it in.
Moose allowed just one hit in the game, a leadoff double from David Justice in the fifth inning. It took the life out of the crowd as the score was still 0-0, but Mussina didn’t crumble. He struck out Matt Williams, got the dangerous Jim Thome to fly out to Brady Anderson in CF, and struck out Alomar to end the inning.
Nagy wasn’t nearly as dominant as Mussina, but through five innings it didn’t matter as both offenses had put zero runs on the scoreboard. Nagy found himself in trouble in the bottom of the first inning when he issued two walks and gave up a double to Berroa, but thanks to a double play ball and a key strikeout of Rafael Palmeiro, he got out of it.
Nearly every inning played out similarly for the Orioles and it seemed clear early on that if they didn’t win this game, it would rest at the feet of the offense, not the pitching. Cal Ripken singled and Mike Bordick doubled in the second inning, but again the offense couldn’t capitalize. Roberto Alomar led off the third inning and was stranded. Ditto Ripken again, who launched a double to deep left field in the fourth.
Finally, in the bottom of the fifth inning, they broke through. Maybe it was the double by Justice that woke them up, or maybe Nagy’s luck just finally ran out. After Anderson and R. Alomar made two quick outs, Nagy gave up back-to-back singles to Berroa and Harold Baines.
In hindsight, Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove has to wish he had pulled the right-handed Nagy before Rafael Palmeiro stepped to the plate with two runners on in a scoreless playoff game. Nagy had been dancing out of trouble the entire game but couldn’t do so against the power-hitting lefty.
On a 1-1 count, Palmeiro used that smooth swing of his to launch a ball high into the night. Cleveland right fielder Manny Ramírez just turned and watched it sail onto the flag court to give the Orioles a 3-0 lead. The Camden Yards crowd went wild, finally releasing the pent-up energy that had been building through 4.5 scoreless innings.
Armed with a three-run lead, Mussina was unstoppable. He completed three more dominant innings, the only baserunners being a two-out walk in the seventh and a two-out walk in the eighth. His final pitching line: 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 10 K. In two ALCS starts, Mussina has allowed just four hits in 15 innings. He struck out a combined 25 Cleveland batters. It’s been an incredible postseason for the 28-year-old ace, who started tonight on short rest for the elimination game.
Somehow, Nagy stayed in the game and after the mistake to Palmeiro, went right back to stranding runners. He allowed two more baserunners in the seventh and two in the eighth without allowing another run. Despite the 3-0 lead, it was a disappointing showing for the strong Orioles’ offense.
After eight innings, Mussina looked in total control and had thrown 107 pitches. He probably could have easily gotten the complete game win. But when you have the best closer in the baseball waiting in the wings, you go to him. After a couple of batters, though, everyone watching was wondering if maybe Mussina should have stayed in after all.
Randy Myers got one out but then a cheap single snuck between Bordick and Ripken on the left side. He pitched a little too carefully to Ramírez and walked him to bring the tying run to the plate. Gulp. But I did mention he’s the best closer in baseball, right? Myers bounced right back to strike out David Justice and Matt Williams and seal the win.
Orioles win, 3-0! They have forced a game seven as they try to fight their way to their first World Series berth since 1983. No starter is named but it seems likely to be Jimmy Key who last pitched in game two. Needless to say, all hands will be on deck in the winner-take-all game.