The Orioles have devised a method that may help them break their annoying habit of falling behind in the early stages of a game.
Noting that the club was quickly in arrears by three or more runs six times in the previous eight games, manager John Oates and pitching coach Al Jackson gave Jeff Robinson an extra five minutes of warmup time before yesterday's game with the Minnesota Twins.
"Pitchers usually get 15 minutes, so we gave him 20," Jackson said. "In effect, Jeff played the first inning in the bullpen, with the catcher even giving the signs. We'll probably do it all the time, with everybody."
Well, the Orioles again fell behind, this time by 3-0 when Chili Davis rocked Robinson first-inning homer with two aboard. Still, Jackson feels the experiment is worth repeating.
"I needed that," Robinson said, "because the first few innings had been a struggle."
Robinson threw behind one batter (Shane Mack) and hit two (Kirby Puckett and Mike Pagliarulo) in the first two innings. That drew a warning from plate umpire Drew Coble.
Purely unintentional, Robinson said. When asked what Puckett said to him while walking down the first base line after being hit, Robinson jested, "He said hello, because he hadn't seen me in a few weeks."
Said catcher Ernie Whitt: "There was no intent on my part or Jeff's. Tempers often flare in a day game following a night game because guys are tired from lack of sleep. Everybody settled down after that."
Robinson indeed settled down, becoming the first Oriole to complete seven innings since Roy Smith on June 2. He had a 4-3 lead when he departed in the eighth, but came away empty when Gregg Olson was tagged for five runs in the ninth. Robinson has only one victory in his last seven starts.
* DEV-ASTATING CATCH: Centerfielder Mike Devereaux robbed Mack of a home run with an eighth-inning catch above the fence that Robinson described as "awesome."
"I knew he hit it well, but I thought when it came off the bat I could catch it," Devereaux said. "Then I thought, uh-oh, there's -- the fence. I just hoped the ball wasn't too much over the fence."
* HORN EJECTED: Designated hitter Sam Horn was ejected by Coble after his fourth-inning strikeout for arguing balls and strikes. He's only the second Oriole this year to get the thumb, following Mike Flanagan, who quarreled over a balk call.
"He said he read my lips," Horn said of Coble. "How can you be sitting at the end of the dugout, and your manager says he can't hear you, and he [Coble] says he can read my lips?"
Oates refused to comment on what he said to Coble. "It's between him, me and Dr. Brown," he said, referring to American League president Dr. Bobby Brown."
* BEN WINGS ALONG: Ben McDonald will begin his rehabilitation assignment tomorrow with Triple A Rochester. In the hope of preventing a reoccurrence of last year at Rochester, when he developed blisters from the higher seams on the baseballs used in the International League, McDonald is taking some American League balls with him.
"I'll warm up with American League balls," McDonald said. "That'll be 50 pitches less with balls with the higher seams. If I feel something burn on my finger, they want me to get stop throwing right away."
* HARKING BACK: A crowd of 44,742 turned out for Turn Back the Clock Day. The Orioles tried to re-create the atmosphere of 1966, when they won their first pennant and World Series.
The crowd was the third largest this year at Memorial Stadium and was larger than any regular-season home crowd in 1966.
* THIS 'N THAT: Frank Robinson was the league's top hitter (.335) at this point in 1966; Cal Ripken leads now at .351 . . . Jack Morris, who beat the Orioles yesterday, has won nine of his last 11 decisions after an 0-3 start . . . Game-time temperature was 66, yes, (19)66 degrees.