CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians needed just one inning to take out two months' worth of offensive frustration on Jeff Ballard.
The Indians sent 14 batters to the plate in the first inning last night and scored nine runs on the way to a 10-4 victory over the Baltimore Orioles before 10,457 at Cleveland Stadium.
All good things must come to an end, particularly for the sixth-place Orioles. The loss ended their longest winning streak of the season at four games, and the Indians put another big dent in the beleaguered starting rotation.
Ballard gutted out the first inning and went on to give up 10 earned runs over three innings in his eighth loss of the season. Mike Flanagan came on to pitch five shutout innings, but it was too late to do any good.
"I can honestly say that I've never had an inning like that," Ballard said. "I stunk. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. I guess everybody's going to have one of those in their career. When it gets that ridiculous, you have to just write it off."
He made no excuses for the worst performance of his career, but his manager accepted some of the blame for leaving him out there.
"I just went with my starter too long," John Oates said. "I managed the first inning tonight hoping, and you can't manage hoping. Knowing we had played three straight extra-inning games, I was just hoping Jeff could get out of the inning with five runs and get us into the third or fourth. By the time I got Flanagan ready, it was nine."
Oates could be forgiven for that. Catcher Sandy Alomar made the second out of the inning with only two runs across. Who would have thought that eight straight batters would reach base before Alomar returned to the plate and made the inning's final out?
"That wasn't the best inning of my career," Oates said. "I can't let us get blown out of a game in the first inning like that. Even if it means that we have to call somebody up tomorrow to get a fresh arm for the bullpen, I have to get him out of there."
Nevertheless, Ballard's performance was bad enough to raise questions about more than pitch selection. Oates said he will talk to Ballard today to make sure his arm is sound.
"Tonight resembled last year," Oates said. "He didn't have the velocity he had in spring training. From my vantage point, I couldn't tell the difference between his fastball and his changeup. I don't know whether he was throwing the fastball too soft or the changeup too hard."
Indians starter Greg Swindell finally got some offensive support and improved his record a 4-6, though he was not particularly effective, either.
The Indians came into the game with a five-game losing streak and 17 losses in their past 20 games, but reeled off more hits in the first inning (eight) then they managed in 29 of the 68 games they've played this year.
Indians manager John McNamara was saying just before game time that his team is not nearly as bad as advertised. Four starters have ERAs of 3.52 or better, but have fallen victim to the inconsistent offense. By comparison, only two Baltimore starters have ERAs under 5.00, none below 4.15.
"This club is not that far away from being a good ballclub," McNamara said. "We just haven't been getting the big hits when we need them."
The Indians got them in bunches last night, but McNamara was not around to see any of them in person. He was ejected from the game by plate umpire Dave Phillips before a single run had crossed the plate in the first inning.
The Indians manager lost his temper when Jerry Browne was called out on a fouled bunt that bounced up and hit him as he started toward first base. Third-base umpire Terry Cooney signaled foul, but Phillips ruled that Browne was struck after he had left the batter's box.
The video replay appeared to support McNamara. It showed the ball striking Browne while both feet were in the box, but Phillips had the only vote that counted.
It would turn out to be only a minor incident in a major offensive explosion by the struggling Indians. Ten of the next 11 batters reached base against Ballard in the biggest inning by an Orioles opponent this year.
Outfielder Albert Belle, who was recalled from the minor leagues on Tuesday to give the Indians added offensive punch, had two hits and three RBI in the inning. He was one of three Cleveland hitters to reach base twice in the first.
Belle's two-run double started the onslaught, and his RBI single was the final straw. Mark Lewis and Browne each contributed two RBI, and Brook Jacoby and Carlos Baerga had one apiece. The nine runs were more than the Indians had scored in their previous four games.
Ballard gave up seven singles, a double and three walks, as the Indians sent 14 batters to the plate. But he stayed out there and worked into the third to keep the team from getting too deep into the bullpen. The 10-run outing, which also included a bases-empty home run in the third by Mike Huff, raised Ballard's ERA from 4.21 to 5.06.