Someday, when the grandkids ask John Oates about his first day as Baltimore Orioles manager, he can look them straight in the eye and tell them he won.
It will be a lie, of course, but who's going to check?
The truth is, the Baltimore Orioles played one of their ugliest games of the year and came within a couple of innings of being no-hit on the way to a 7-1 loss in Oates' managerial debut last night.
Scott Sanderson and Greg Cadaret carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning before Cal Ripken hit a leadoff double, but that wasn't even the worst of it. How often does Ripken make two errors in a game? Not very. How often does an Orioles starter lose it before the fifth inning? Don't answer that.
And it started out to be such a pleasant day for the new manager. Oates showed up at the ballpark early and got organized in his new office. He signed his new contract. He held a pre-game meeting with the club -- just the usual upbeat stuff, he said -- and prepared to take the field for pre-game workouts.
It all seemed pretty idyllic until the latest Orioles medical report came in. Pitching ace Ben McDonald is not as healthy as everyone had been saying. He was placed on the disabled list. Roy Smith was called up to take his place. Welcome to the hot seat, John.
The game was another tour de farce for the slumping Orioles, who came home from Detroit with the pitching staff in chaos and the club 10 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox. Jeff Robinson lasted four runs in 3 2/3 innings. It just keeps getting worse.
There were three Orioles errors in all. Three wild pitches. Three Orioles hits. Four relief pitchers. In short, Oates probably should have asked for a pain-and-suffering clause when he signed on the dotted line.
"It's over," Oates said. "I guess that's one thing."
Sanderson carried the no-hit bid through five innings, but had to turn it over to Cadaret in the sixth after he experienced stiffness in his right shoulder. He retired the first 11 batters he faced before Ripken reached base on an error by third baseman Steve Sax. Turnabout apparently is fair play, since the Orioles shortstop had made an error on a ground ball by Sax earlier in the game.
Ripken had been immune to the Orioles' six-week slump. He is off to his best-ever start at the plate and has been one of the most productive hitters in the major leagues. But he committed two errors last night, one fewer than he was charged with the entire 1990 season.
He bobbled the ground ball from Sax in the second inning and threw wildly to the plate on a relay from the outfield in the fourth. It was his first multiple-error game since June 14, 1987, and it left him with four errors in 1991.
Oates tried to remain upbeat after the game, though it couldn't have been easy.
"I saw some things I liked," he said. "We had a good attitude in the dugout. But there were a couple of times when we got a little careless.
"When things are going well, you don't even notice those things. But when things aren't going well, everybody notices. You don't know what goes through the players' minds. We'll address those things as we see them."
Robinson was coming off a pair of solid starts, for all the good it did him. He gave up one run over 7 2/3 innings in a May 14 victory over the Oakland Athletics and came right back to give up two runs in an eight-inning no-decision against the California Angels last Saturday. Add a strong relief appearance May 10 and he had given up just three runs during his past 20 1/3 innings.
But Robinson never makes it look easy. He had pitched with runners on base in 27 of his previous 31 innings, so some of the runners figured to catch up with him eventually.
The Yankees ran off three straight hits to open the second inning, including a leadoff homer by Kevin Maas, but Robinson minimized the damage by striking out three straight batters with runners at first and third.
He had two runners on in the third and escaped unharmed, but gave up three more runs in an ugly fourth inning that featured a leadoff walk, the second error by Ripken, three doubles and a wild pitch. Oates finally pulled him for reliever Paul Kilgus, who came on and threw another wild pitch before getting out of the inning.
"Jeff is the type of pitcher who's going to have base runners out there," Oates said. "He has the ability to pitch out of trouble. When you're going well, you can afford to let a guy pitch out of a jam, but I told him before the game, the way we're going, we can't leave him out there."
Just another big early-inning deficit to overcome. The Orioles fell behind in a hurry in three of their previous four games -- all of them blowouts -- to send manager Frank Robinson packing. This game was not so one-sided, but it didn't have to be.
Sanderson has been the most consistent pitcher in the Yankees rotation. That may not be saying much, but the Orioles have made a lot of lesser pitchers look good this year.