The Orioles plunge into a road trip with more important things on their minds than merely three games in Seattle and three more in Chicago.
Their 4-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics yesterday put them 19 games under .500 (39-58) for the first time since the end of the 1988 season. In one-run games since John Oates became manager, they are 5-16.
There is no doubt in Oates' mind that the club's main need is starting pitchers, and he would prefer that the search not be delayed until the offseason. Ask him what he hopes to accomplish in the season's remaining weeks, and he doesn't grope for an answer.
"We've got to put a plan together," he said. "Pitching -- we have to find pitchers. We have to do things we're not doing, like getting situational hitting. Those two main things, really.
"All our [current] starters have had adequate time to show what they can do. I have all kinds of ideas about what we can do, but I'm not ready to talk about it now."
Oates had no complaint about Ben McDonald's pitching yesterday -- except for the home-run pitches to Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson, but he had a major one about the lack of timely hitting. In the seventh inning, for example, with the score tied, 3-3, the Orioles loaded the bases with none out against reliever Rick Honeycutt only to come away without a run.
"Lack of situational hitting," Oates said ruefully. "The difference was that they hit in the clutch and we didn't. We're the third or fourth worst in the majors in left-on-base."
Fourth is what the Orioles are. Only Toronto, Boston and the White Sox have stranded more runners.
Although Oates declines to be specific, he indicates the plan to improve the starting pitching and clutch hitting should include not onlychanges ("trades and call-ups from the minors") but also instruction.
"Films and scouting reports," Oates said. "Each individual would be handled differently. We could talk non-stop here until next week and still not get it all covered."
McDonald worked into the eighth inning before Oates brought in Mike Flanagan to finish up. The righthander's only sins were the home-run deliveries to Canseco in the sixth, good for three runs, and to Henderson in the eighth, a solo and the game-winner.
"Except for two pitches, he's a winner," Oates said. "When he throws the ball like that, well, we'll take that."
Said McDonald: "I'm right where I want to be, at least getting real close. I got ahead on the count 0-and-2 a lot. I was 3-and-0 a few times, but I wound up striking out one guy and getting the other on a ground ball. My control was better. I was real pleased."
McDonald encountered controversy in the first inning. He hit Canseco with a pitch, a curveball that brushed the slugger's shoulder. After a few heated words and the obligatory emptying of both dugouts and bullpens, order was restored without incident.
"Canseco hollered, or I guess he did," McDonald said. "I'll say just one thing about that. If I'm going to hit somebody on purpose, it's not going to be with a breaking ball. I don't
hit many guys; you can check that."
In fact, it was the first time McDonald hit a batter in his major-league career. He had faced 781 before nicking Canseco.
"It was just a breaking ball that got away," Oakland manager Tony La Russa said. "Jose has taken a few shots lately, so he probably didn't have much patience for it."
Booed every time he came to the plate after that, Canseco hit his three-run homer in the sixth -- No. 27 of the year, raising his RBI total to 79.
"I was trying to throw low and away, but it was up and in," McDonald said. "It was such a bad pitch I'm surprised he hit it. It just shows you how strong he is."
Henderson, ever the hot dog, stood at the plate admiring the ball he hit off McDonald in the eighth, waiting until it landed before breaking into a home-run strut.
"Oh, that's Rickey," McDonald said. "He's been doing that for 107 years. That's the way he plays."
Two batters later, up stepped Canseco again. The score was 4-3, and fearful Canseco might do more damage, Oates went against the book and summoned the lefthanded Flanagan to face the righthanded-hitting Canseco.
"I don't know the numbers, but I thought it was a good matchup for Flanagan," Oates said.
The numbers: Canseco was 3-for-19 lifetime against Flanagan. Obediently, Canseco grounded out to third base.