The Orioles' visit to Atlanta triggered World Series excitement on a smaller, friendlier scale. Turner Field was sold out for all three games, or one more than it had been for its first 31 dates. Local and national newspapers ran Series-style position-by-position matchups. A Braves employee, unfamiliar with the architect of two Toronto Blue Jays world-championship teams, nearly booted Baltimore general manager Pat Gillick from the field before Friday's game because he wasn't wearing a credential. Light-hitting Orioles shortstop Mike Bordick, upon seeing a pitcher instead of a designated hitter on the lineup card for the first time, cracked, "At least Jimmy Key's not hitting in front of me." Fittingly, the Interleague World Series began the same way as the final game of last year's real World Series: with Maddux pitching against Key, the former Yankee who started and won Game 6.
Having never faced Baltimore, Maddux prepared for his start by watching videotapes of other hurlers, including Chicago White Sox righthander Doug Drabek, pitching against the Orioles. Such unfamiliarity usually embellishes the aura of the World Series. For instance, Glavine says he found out only in the heat of last year's Series "how good of a fastball hitter Bernie Williams was."
By contrast, should Baltimore and Atlanta stage a been-there, done-that Series in October, Anderson will have firsthand knowledge of how Maddux can start a fastball at a lefthanded hitter's hips and run it back over the inside corner for strike three, as he did in the fourth inning on Friday. "I've seen him do it on TV, but it's something different to see it in the batter's box," Anderson said. "It broke so late."
Starting last Friday, the Braves played three straight interleague games in which they faced an elite starting pitcher (Key, Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson of the Orioles) and were scheduled to meet another, Roger Clemens of the Blue Jays, on Monday; those four had a combined record of 38-5. Key matched Maddux zero for zero until Baltimore scratched out four runs in the sixth inning on five softly hit singles; a sacrifice bunt by Key, his first since playing for Clemson 15 years ago; and a sacrifice fly. Atlanta rallied to within 4-3 on more conventional American League tactics—a triple and two home runs—before Orioles closer Randy Myers sealed the win with a perfect ninth inning.
By beating a National League team, Key (11-1) tied Clemens for the American League lead in victories, underscoring the pollution of league statistics caused by interleague play. Key, however, guaranteed that he wouldn't be going to the All-Star Game when he decided in spring training to be married on July 8, the day of the game. "We firmed it up in May," Key said of his plans. "I've started an All-Star Game before. It's not more important than having happiness off the field."
As they had against Maddux, the Orioles broke out against Smoltz on Saturday in their third time around the batting order. Through five innings Baltimore had only a line drive single by Mussina, who capped a 10-pitch at bat with his first hit since 1987, when he was playing for Montoursville (Pa.) High. "What was really strange was having to run the bases," said Mussina. "I was thinking, Uh-oh, I might have to take out the shortstop."
The Orioles scored once in the sixth, thanks to a ball centerfielder Andruw Jones misplayed into a triple, and twice in the seventh, courtesy of a two-run homer by Anderson that hit the screen attached to the foul pole. "I don't know how I gave up three runs, but I did," said Smoltz, who was removed from the game after the seventh inning.
Each team added another run before Baltimore catcher Chris Hoiles—who was one strike from whiffing for a major-league-record-tying sixth time in the game—drove in two with a double in the 12th. "I was glad just to put it in play," he said. Myers gained another save, his big-league-leading 22nd, by getting the last out nearly five hours after the game began. (He would earn number 23 on Sunday.) "Now I know why they play three- and four-hour games over there," Smoltz said of the American League. "I couldn't pitch that slow if I tried."
The game took so long that thousands of fans bailed out before the end despite the competitiveness of the matchup. Ripken ended up being late for his seven o'clock book signing, yet another whistle-stop on a schedule so grueling that it could rival his consecutive-game streak, which stood at 2,380 through Sunday. "Physically, the schedule has been tough, no question," he said. Atlanta marked the third destination in a stretch in which the Orioles were to play six series in six cities over 20 days. Beginning on May 12, they were to visit 12 cities in 45 days.
"I haven't had time to study the whole thing," Ripken said, "but it seems as if they took the old schedule and chiseled off a game here and a game there and tried to make them fit, rather than starting from scratch. I like the concept of interleague play, but I don't want it to break up the stability of baseball and the integrity of the leagues."