As we begin 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’ slam stuns Mariners
10. Game 6 of 1997 ALCS
9. 1993 All-Star Game
8. Moose misses perfection
7. Eddie comes home
6. Bonilla’s slam in first playoff win
5. The first Opening Day
4. Postseason downsizing of the Big Unit – Oct. 5, 1997
If he wasn’t the best pitcher in the game at the time, the Big Unit was certainly the most intimidating.
After drawing 20-game winner Randy Johnson and the Seattle Mariners in the best-of-five American League Division Series, the Orioles were thought by many to be the underdog despite finishing with the league’s best record in 1997. Starting the series in Seattle under the now-defunct first-round format — which had benefited the Orioles the year before against the Indians — didn’t help as Baltimore would likely have to face the tall lefty twice in a short series.
However, long before the infamous “B-team” lineups trotted out by Dave Trembley failed miserably on Sundays, 1997 American League Manager of the Year Davey Johnson used unconventional thinking against Seattle’s dominant starter, resting all of his left-handed hitters except leadoff hitter Brady Anderson.
That meant Jerome Walton — and his 74 total at-bats in 1997 — started at first base in place of Rafael Palmeiro, who had hit 38 home runs that year.
Jeffrey Hammonds took the place of regular left fielder B.J. Surhoff.
And all-world second baseman Roberto Alomar — normally a switch-hitter but relegated to hitting exclusively from the left side due to a shoulder injury — was replaced by utility infielder Jeff Reboulet.
National baseball pundits crucified the Orioles skipper, insisting he needed to stick with his left-handed stars in the postseason, even against the man who tortured hitters from that side of the plate. The strategy, however, worked like a charm in Game 1 when the Orioles clobbered the 6-foot-10 hurler for five runs in five innings in a 9-3 win in Seattle.
After beating Jamie Moyer in Game 2, the Orioles returned to Baltimore holding a 2-0 lead. The Mariners won Game 3, setting up a Game 1 rematch between Johnson and Orioles ace Mike Mussina.
The unorthodox lineup couldn’t possibly work for a second time in five days, could it?
With a chance to see the home team close out a playoff series at Camden Yards for the first time, Orioles fans were delirious with excitement as the junior-varsity lineup took their hacks against Johnson. In the bottom of the first inning, the scrawny Reboulet — with all of 13 career home runs in his first six seasons in the big leagues — lined a Johnson pitch into the left-field seats, giving the Orioles a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
Overall, the Seattle pitcher fared better than he did in Game 1 against the Baltimore lineup, but Mussina was far superior, allowing one run and two hits in seven innings against a powerful Mariners lineup that included five hitters with 20 or more home runs that afternoon.
A Geronimo Berroa homer in the fifth increased the Orioles’ lead to 3-1 as the game moved into the late innings. Armando Benitez pitched a scoreless eighth, setting the stage for closer Randy Myers to close out the series.
Myers struck out Edgar Martinez and Roberto Kelly to begin the ninth before Jay Buhner came to the plate. With 48,766 going berserk, Buhner hit a grounder to shortstop Mike Bordick, who handled it flawlessly to throw him out and send the Orioles to victory and the American League Championship Series.
It was an electric moment as fans shouted, “Bring on the Yankees!” in anticipation of a rematch of the 1996 ALCS when the Yankees had knocked the Orioles out of the postseason on their way to a World Series title. However, New York blew a 2-1 series lead and was ousted by the Cleveland Indians, a deflating outcome that might have led to an emotional letdown as the Orioles suffered a crushing six-game defeat to the Indians.
Regardless of what happened thereafter, the Game 4 win over the Mariners was the finest team-centric moment in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.