OAKLAND, CALF. — OAKLAND, Calif. -- Manager Frank Robinson could see light at the end of the runway, which was the point at which the Baltimore Orioles officially escaped from the San Francisco Bay area yesterday.
Next stop, Seattle, where the Orioles do not play particularly well either, but almost have to improve on the two frightening performances they delivered at the Oakland Coliseum.
The Oakland Athletics scored a 9-3 victory yesterday to complete a two-game sweep that featured a three-home run performance by Harold Baines on Tuesday night and a two-homer, six-RBI effort by Mark McGwire in the early-afternoon finale.
The A's bounced back from their own lost weekend against the Cleveland Indians (who scored 35 runs in two games) to score 20 times in two games against a beleaguered Baltimore pitching staff. The Orioles appeared to catch a break when Oakland ace Dave Stewart left the game early with a strained rib cage, but it doesn't take a perennial 20-game winner to hold their slumping offense to three runs. Curt Young, the first of four A's relievers, held the Orioles scoreless for 3 2/3 innings to earn his first victory of the year.
What's a manager to do?
"I'm going to drive over to San Francisco, eat a fine meal, have a nice flight to Seattle, have a nice off-day in Seattle, win three games in a row, go home and get on a roll and forget about this," Robinson said.
Sounds great. The only problem is guaranteeing those three straight victories over the Mariners, who took two of three from the Orioles at Memorial Stadium last week and have won 11 of their past 15 games against Baltimore.
Granted, the Mariners are not in the same league as the A's (well, actually they are; that was just a figure of speech), but the Orioles have been playing so poorly that the opponent is not the issue.
"What's wrong?" Robinson said. "That might be the easiest question I've had to answer all day. We're not hitting, and we're not pitching well. Other than that, we're doing fine."
Robinson had hoped that inserting 39-year-old left-hander Mike Flanagan into the starting rotation would give the club a boost, but it only succeeded in bringing Flanagan down to the same level as everyone else.
Flanagan, who came into the game with a 1.50 ERA, gave up a three-run homer to McGwire in the first inning and a bases-empty shot to Rickey Henderson in the fifth. He was charged with five earned runs in four-plus innings on the way to his first Orioles loss since 1987.
McGwire turned the game into a blowout by hitting a three-run homer off reliever Mark Williamson in a six-run fifth inning, setting a career high for RBI in a game. He has 21 homers in 53 games against the Orioles.
"We've had just too many big innings like the fifth today," Robinson said. "We had one today, one yesterday and two in California. The way we are hitting, we just have no chance to overcome that. We're just not able to put any runs on the board."
The A's put the pressure on early and never let up. Henderson opened the first inning with a double down the left field line and Dave Henderson followed with a bunt single. Flanagan struck out Jose Canseco, but was not as fortunate against McGwire.
"Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good," Flanagan said. "The first ball landed right on the chalk, then the bunt, then I make a bad pitch. Even in games that are blowouts, it only takes a couple of things to make the difference.
"We just aren't getting any breaks. Bob Melvin comes up with the bases loaded and hits the heck out of a ball and a guy makes a leaping catch. That's two runs, three if it gets all the way through. If things are going right, Henderson's ball goes foul, we handle a bunt and it's a different game."
Of course, things are not going right. The Orioles have lost four of their past seven games, which doesn't seem all that bad until you consider that they scored more than two runs in only one of the three victories.
The prospects for immediate offensive improvement do not look good. The Mariners will send three solid starters to the mound this weekend. The Orioles will send homer-prone Jeff Ballard in the series opener, hard-luck Jose Mesa in the second game and struggling Ben McDonald in the finale.
The pitching problems have not been confined to the starting rotation. Middle relief has become a sore spot, even though Flanagan and converted starter Bob Milacki have pitched well.
Williamson come on in relief of Flanagan yesterday and pitched for the cycle, giving up a single, a double and a triple to go with McGwire's second home run. He also threw a wild pitch that caromed off the shoulder of catcher Chris Hoiles and knocked him out of the game.