Queen Elizabeth II came to Memorial Stadium last night, ostensibly to sample a slice of Americana on her tour of the colonies. Instead, she got to see the Baltimore Orioles make baseball look like the irrational pastime.
The Orioles have a long and distinguished tradition of defensive excellence, but their command performance quickly became an
experiment in error. Almost everything that could go wrong did ++ on the way to a 6-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics.
First baseman Randy Milligan hit two home runs and Craig Worthington hit one. But the three homers off Oakland starter Bob Welch (4-2) produced just three runs, not enough to overcome a self-destructive performance by the league's leading defensive team.
Two errors and a couple of fundamental lapses led to at least two runs and may have even accounted for the margin of victory. "We weren't sharp out there tonight," manager Frank Robinson said. "We didn't play good defense and it cost us. Against a good club like that, you just can't afford to give anything away."
The Orioles continue to hit the long ball with amazing frequency, but what is more amazing is how infrequently those home runs have come with anyone on base. Of the past 26 home runs hit by the Orioles, 25 have come with the bases empty. The club leads the league with 37 home runs, but is averaging less than four runs per game.
Orioles starter Jeff Ballard (2-5) was the first to complain when Robinson pulled him out of Friday night's start after only three innings, but he couldn't complain about the shabby defensive performance. He was right in the middle of it.
He walked Dave Henderson in the first inning and moved him into scoring position with a wild pitch to set up a run-scoring
single by Harold Baines.
Baines has been a tough out for several Orioles pitchers this year, but right fielder Dwight Evans could have robbed him of an RBI with a perfect throw to the plate. The ball was up the line and it reached catcher Chris Hoiles just as Henderson was passing behind him.
The A's added another run in the third, but it wouldn't have been possible without a pair of defensive lapses -- the first a fielding error by third baseman Craig Worthington and the second a throwing error by Ballard.
Worthington let a ground ball by Rickey Henderson glance off his glove. Ballard later tried to pick Henderson off second base and instead hit him on the shoulder. By the time the ball was retrieved, Henderson had scored and Jose Canseco (who had walked with one out) was at third base. Ballard came right back to strike out Mark McGwire and got off easy when Baines ended the inning with a soft fly to right.
Nevertheless, the Orioles have not played great defense behind him this year. The club has committed 18 errors, and 10 of them have come with Ballard on the mound.
"It's always something," Ballard said, "but I'm disappointed in myself. I made some good pitches tonight, but I feel I should be doing better. I need to be contributing right now. It's frustrating when you keep making mistakes that cost you."
Both runs the A's scored in the sixth were earned, but Bill Ripken mishandled a relay throw that allowed McGwire to score from first on a double by Lance Blankenship. Vance Law followed with an RBI single that brought Ballard's evening to an end.
The queen left before the Orioles could put a run on the board, though she was on hand when Milligan set off a minor foul-pole controversy in the second inning with a slicing line drive into the stands in the right-field corner. First-base umpire Dan Morrison ruled the ball foul just as Milligan was rounding first, a call that caused the slumping first baseman to drop to his knees in frustration.
What else could go wrong? He has been struggling at the plate all season and came into the game with a .191 batting average to prove it.
Two innings later, Milligan drove a towering fly ball to left-center for his first home run first since July 22 -- two weeks before a shoulder injury cut short what might have been a dream 1990 season.
Two innings after that, Milligan led off the sixth with another bases-empty shot into the same empty section.
"I was starting to wonder," Milligan said. "After he called that one foul, I went back to the plate and told the catcher, 'This just isn't my year,' then it was boom-boom the next two times up."