As we move closer to the start of the 20th season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, I take a look back at the top 20 moments in the history of the ballpark. Selected moments had to relate directly to the action on the field at the time. No orchestrated events such as World Series anniversary celebrations or Orioles Hall of Fame inductions were eligible.
20. Wieters’ debut
19. Nomo tosses only no-hitter in Oriole Park history
18. Orioles rally from nine-run deficit against Boston
16. Showalter takes the helm
15. Palmeiro homers in Oriole debut
14. Griffey’s Warehouse shot
13. Sparring with Seattle
12. Davis defies the odds
11. Hoiles’ dreamlike slam stuns Mariners – May 17, 1996
A unique moment in sports is occasionally so memorable that it takes on a life of itself.
An event where only several thousand were present gradually transforms into an occasion witnessed by hundreds of thousands, if only for its improbable nature and the euphoria its aftermath creates.
There’s nothing more cliched in sports than the boyhood dream of stepping to the plate in the bottom of the ninth with your team trailing by three runs.
Full count, two outs, and the bases loaded.
It’s the stuff of wide-eyed boys playing in the backyard on a July afternoon, dreaming of one day playing in the big leagues.
And it was the exact scenario presented to Chris Hoiles, who capitalized on that dream in one of the wildest games in Orioles history.
It was a typical slugfest that characterized the 1996 season. Both the Orioles and Seattle Mariners were short on pitching but could mash opponents into submission with an offensive onslaught — the two clubs hit a combined 502 home runs in 1996 — that wore out scoreboard operators around the league.
After jumping out to a 7-2 lead through five innings, the Orioles bullpen proceeded to surrender an inexcusable 11 runs in four innings of work. A grand slam by 20-year-old Alex Rodriguez off Alan Mills had given the Mariners an 11-9 lead in the eighth, and the lead grew to 13-10 as Seattle closer Norm Charlton worked in the bottom of the ninth.
Many of the 47,259 in attendance had gone home after the game had eclipsed the four-hour mark and appeared destined to be a deflating loss thanks to the ineffective bullpen. Even more at home had surely turned off the television set as the clock approached midnight.
Yet, what happened next would have many more thousands claiming they were there, or had at least hung on to watch the bottom of the ninth on TV.
The erratic Charlton — who would bring his high-wire act to Baltimore two years later to the tune of a 6.94 earned run average in 1998 — walked Roberto Alomar, allowed a Bobby Bonilla double, and issued a free pass to Cal Ripken in the process of getting the first two outs of the inning. Hoiles came to the plate with a chance to become the 20th man in major league history to hit a walk-off grand slam to erase a three-run deficit.
The count went full as the several thousand still in attendance rose to their feet with the imagined scenario playing out before their eyes. Then, Hoiles deposited the 3-2 pitch into the left field seats to give the Orioles an inconceivable 14-13 victory as the stunned Mariners walked off the field.
His teammates mobbed him at the plate as Hoiles became the only known player in history to hit his “ultimate” grand slam with a full count and two outs. The select fans who had stuck around Camden Yards that night had seen one of the most exciting moments in franchise history.
And thousands more would learn of it the next morning, kicking themselves for heading home early or turning off the tube the previous night.