KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI — KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Baltimore Orioles are going to need some help from above to salvage a frustrating first half, and that's just what they got last night at Royals Stadium.
It took a two-hour cloudburst to wash away another frightening ++ performance by struggling starter Jose Mesa, who gave up three runs in the first inning before the game between the Orioles and Kansas City Royals was delayed and eventually postponed until tomorrow.
Who says the Orioles can't get a break? They were trailing, 3-1, in the bottom of the second inning when the umpires ordered the tarpaulin placed over the infield. Now, they'll get a fresh start tomorrow, when the game is replayed as part of an afternoon doubleheader.
Mesa will get a fresh start, too. Manager John Oates said Mesa will come back on one day's rest to start against either Luis Aquino or Kevin Appier. Mesa faced just nine hitters last night, with disturbing results.
Oates says his patience with the young right-hander knows no end, but Mesa seems determined to find out just how far he can stretch it.
He allowed four of the first five Royals batters to reach base in the first inning, the latest in a series of early inning blowups that have left the Orioles wondering what it will take to bring an end to his six-week slump. But the club apparently is committed to the idea of letting him work out his problems in the major-league rotation.
"We don't have 78 arms like his in this organization," Oates said. "I think it is our job to instruct him, to motivate him and to help him use the talent he has to become a winner in the major leagues."
That didn't seem so difficult the first month of the season, when Mesa was stringing together six straight solid performances, but he has pitched really well only once in the nine starts since he shut out the California Angels on seven hits May 6.
He gave up eight runs in 4 1/3 innings on Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays, including three in the first inning. Last night, he gave up two singles and a walk before allowing a one-out, bases-clearing double by first baseman Jim Eisenreich.
"I'm going to have to take some of the responsibility for today," Oates said. "We've been telling him to use all his pitches, and tonight he threw two changeups, one for a base hit, and then threw a couple of sliders to Danny Tartabull. The rest were fastballs.
"What I wanted to get across was that he has to go with the curveball more. It's his No. 2 pitch, so he should be throwing it more than the slider and the changeup."
The Orioles had scored first on a leadoff walk to Mike Devereaux and singles by Cal Ripken and Leo Gomez, but the lead evaporated.
Royals left-hander Mike Magnante was making his first major-league start, filling in for Mark Gubicza, who left town suddenly after learning that his father had died of a heart attack early yesterday morning.
Magnante was recalled from the Class AAA Omaha Royals on June 14 to replace injured Bret Saberhagen on the roster. He had made three appearances in an earlier stay at the major-league level and pitched 2 2/3 innings against the Chicago White Sox on Sunday.
Mesa had averaged just four innings in his previous three games. He has given up three or more runs in the first inning in three of his past five starts. But Oates remains committed to helping find his way out of the pitching wilderness.
"As long as he's sound, we have to keep working at it," Oates said. "I don't think we're that far off. We're trying some things. I wouldn't call it experimenting. It's more fine-tuning. He's not that far off track."
The rain delayed the proceedings after Mesa had retired the first two batters and given up a single in the bottom of the second.
Site: Royals Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
Orioles starter: Bob Milacki (2-2, 4.84)
Royals starter: Tom Gordon (4-4, 3.68)
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)
TV: Channels 2, 20