OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Baltimore Orioles opened the second half of the 1991 season with a frightening first-half flashback.
Right-hander Jeff Robinson gave up five runs in the first inning and the Oakland Athletics gave nothing back in a lopsided 8-1 victory last night at the Oakland Coliseum.
If this is beginning to sound familiar, it is with good reason. It was the 25th time this season that the Orioles have fallen behind by 3-0 or worse in the first three innings. In this case, it was worse. Much worse.
The A's batted around and bounced Robinson before he had recorded his second out of the first inning. The Orioles never regained their composure, stumbling to their fifth loss in the past seven games.
"It wasn't just our pitching tonight," manager John Oates said. "We just didn't play well. We made too many mistakes tonight."
Case in point: Reliever Todd Frohwirth threw the ball into center field on back-to-back double-play balls in the third inning. The errors were the ninth and 10th of the year for the Orioles pitching staff.
Case in point: Right fielder Joe Orsulak picked up a base hit in the first inning and tried to throw out Rickey Henderson going from first to third. He had no chance to begin with, but he complicated the situation by overthrowing the cutoff man and allowing Ernest Riles to move into scoring position.
Case in point: Center fielder Mike Devereaux was thrown out at third base on a ground ball into the hole at short in the fourth inning with the club down by six runs. It was a gift out for A's shortstop Mike Bordick, who would have had a tough throw to get Cal Ripken at first.
Oakland starter Dave Stewart has been struggling this year, but he struck out a season-high eight and scattered five hits over seven shutout innings on the way to his seventh victory.
Robinson had pitched into the sixth inning or later in his previous four starts, but he allowed the first four A's to reach base and never recovered. In all, he retired just one of eight batters before turning the game over to Frohwirth.
"I don't make excuses to begin with," Robinson said, "and if I did, I wouldn't have any tonight, anyway. Things like this embarrass me. My job is to get us into the seventh, eighth or ninth inning. That's what I get paid to do, and I didn't do my job."
Oates had to be suffering right along with him, especially when Robinson walked leadoff hitter Rickey Henderson on four pitches. Oates has been trying to drill into his pitchers that it is better to give up a hit than a walk, but Robinson apparently wasn't in a position to choose.
He quickly gave up three straight singles, further complicating the situation with a wild pitch to bring home the first run of the game. Jose Canseco's base hit brought home the second. It just got worse from there.
Dave Henderson was kind enough to hit a routine fly ball to right, but Robinson walked Mark McGwire to load the bases before the bottom third of the Oakland batting order broke the game open.
Catcher Terry Steinbach brought home the third A's run with a base hit to left and Mike Gallego brought Oates out of the dugout with a two-run single to make it 5-0.
"I threw the ball well in the bullpen," Robinson said. "Even after I walked Henderson, I thought things would be all right. But I was pitching behind in the count on every hitter. They were always in a hitting situation. That's my fault."
The loss dropped Robinson to 4-7. The five earned runs raised his ERA to 4.97. His ERA on the road this year is 10.16. Rolaids, anyone?
So much for the best-laid plans of the Orioles manager. He said at the close of the first half that the Orioles could not afford to keep falling behind in the early innings if they expect to salvage something positive out of a disappointing season.
But while Oates continues to cling to the hope that things will improve, the starting rotation continues to feed him a steady diet of reality. Orioles starters are a combined 24-36 with a 5.62 ERA this year, which is as good a reason as any for the club's sixth-place standing.
It was the 50th time this year that the Orioles have turned to the bullpen for at least three innings of relief, which is as good a reason as any why the Orioles should consider sixth place to be a blessing.
The third-place A's, meanwhile, are locked in a five-team race in the American League West, where 2 1/2 games separates first place and fifth. But they open the second half with 21 straight games against the weaker AL East, which could help tip the race back in their favor.
Athletics first: R.Henderson walked. Riles singled to right, R.Henderson to third, Riles to second on throw to third. On