It’s hard to remember what a special thing Camden Yards was, that first season back in 1992. Every game was a sellout. Every game was special. It was the first year that I had a thirteen game mini-plan that an IBM coworker and I had purchased. There were so many exciting moments for me at the Yards that year. Homeruns by Frank Thomas. Stolen bases by Rickey Henderson. My first sight of a promising Orioles pitcher named Mike Mussina. And the first Eutaw street homerun by Mickey Tettleton.
For pure excitement however a Saturday afternoon game in July against Texas was tops. Texas jumped to an 8-0 lead but the Orioles fought back. One of the big hits for the O’s was a pinch hit triple by Mark McLemore that drove in two runs. McLemore was the sort of player I liked to root for. He had played second base for the Angels for a couple of years and from my vantage point had done reasonably well. Well the Angels traded him to Cleveland and the Indians released him. Then he signed on with Houston and they released him also. Now he was with the Birds trying to hang onto a job as a backup. He had not played a whole lot up to this point. The triple came at a critical point in the game and the capacity crowd gave him a thundering ovation. I could see him standing at third base with his head bowed. It must have felt good.
The game eventually entered the bottom of the ninth with the Rangers still ahead by three. The Birds managed to get runners on second and third with two out. Closer Jeff Russell was on the mound for Texas. The man due up was catcher Rick Dempsey. Dempsey was a four decade man who had enjoyed a quality career with the Orioles from the mid-1970s right on through to the late 1980s and had been immensely popular. For the past few seasons he had served as a backup catcher for various teams. He had come to the O’s Spring Training with a minor league contract and had not made the team. When the Orioles regular receiver Chris Hoiles went down with an injury in June, Dempsey was added to the roster. But he was rarely ever put into a game. Jeff Tackett had done pretty much all the receiving for the past month. There may have even been some question concerning whether Dempsey was in playing condition.
But Tackett had been the man that McLemore had pinch hit for earlier, so Dempsey had entered the game. He had walked in his one prior at bat but manager Oates wanted someone stronger in this do-or-die situation, so he sent in Sam Horn, still looking for his warehouse shot, to pinch hit. Horn, the would-be tying run, walked. Now Sam was not known to be fleet of foot, so scraping the bottom of the barrel, Oates sent Tom Shields a minor leaguer who had been just called up to pinch run. All these roster moves were keeping my IBM friend and I busy with our scorecards. Someone nearby by called up to us,
“Who goes into catch next inning if it goes into extra innings?”
I looked at the roster. There was no one left who had not already been used except a few pitchers.
“We’re working on it. We’ll get back to you!” was our response.
Mark McLemore was the next batter. With the bases loaded he walked forcing in a run and moving the tying run to second base. This was one of those situations which happen in baseball when you can just feel the tension. Russell was obviously struggling on the mound, but the Texas manager did not have any faith in any of his other pitchers. The crowd was pleading for a hit. Brady Anderson who was enjoying his first breakout season was at bat. Having walked two hitters in a row, we knew Russell would have to come in with it. And he did – and Anderson hit it squarely. At first we thought it would be a solid hit, but the ball hung in midair for a bit too long and centerfielder Juan Gonzalez caught it to end the game. While I was disappointed with the final result, the game itself had been baseball at its best. It had been almost four hours long and I had enjoyed every minute of it.