SEATTLE -- Jeff Ballard has had better days.
He arrived at the Kingdome yesterday afternoon to find that he no longer had a place in the Baltimore Orioles starting rotation. Then he came out of the bullpen to give up a pair of two-run doubles in the club's 11-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners.
It has been that kind of year for the 27-year-old left-hander, but it was that kind of night for everyone in an Orioles uniform. The club dropped behind early, fought back to take the lead and then got blown out in a seventh-inning bat-around that featured seven runs and five doubles between the first out and the second.
Dave Cochrane's two-run double off Ballard broke a 4-4 tie. Harold Reynolds followed with another two-run, two-base hit to put Seattle four runs ahead. Left-hander Paul Kilgus came on to run the string of doubles to four, one shy of the major-league record. Starter Bob Milacki also had given up a one-out double, but Ballard walked two batters (one intentionally) before the beginning the string.
"The bottom line is, we just let the game get away in the seventh inning," said manager John Oates. "We get an out and a double and I wanted Bobby to go home feeling like he pitched well. I thought it was a good time to turn around their left-handed hitters."
With the go-ahead run at second and one out, Ballard intentionally walked pinch hitter Tracy Jones to set up the double play, but both runners moved up when a changeup skipped by catcher Chris Hoiles. It was a wild pitch that just as easily could have been a passed ball. Ballard walked Omar Vizquel to load the bases and the Mariners were off to the races.
"I'm not saying this lost the game, but we let a changeup get by us and it changed the complexion of the inning," Oates said. "The little things, that's what I've been harping on all along."
In all, eight consecutive Mariners batters reached base in the inning, which was topped off with a two-run single by Alvin Davis.
The Orioles went on to lose their fourth straight and their 10th in the past 13 games. Perhaps it's a sign of the times, but the American League West won all six interdivisional games last night.
Another round of early-inning Orioles bashing began as soon as the Mariners came to bat in the first. Milacki hit leadoff hitter Edgar Martinez with a pitch and walked Harold Reynolds before Ken Griffey Jr. pulled a two-run double down the right-field line.
Griffey moved to third on a balk and scored on a one-out sacrifice fly by Alvin Davis. Just that quickly, the Orioles were down by three runs in the first three innings for the 30th time in 98 games.
"What really hurt me was the walk to Reynolds," Milacki said. "The pitch that hit Martinez was not that wild. It was just a ball that was close to the plate and ran in. The walk to Reynolds hurt me and the balk that let them score the third run on a fly ball."
It was the kind of beginning that convinced Oates to exile Ballard and Jeff Robinson to the bullpen earlier in the day, but Milacki has been one of the club's most dependable starters the past five weeks.
In his previous six starts, Milacki was 4-2 with a 3.12 ERA, including his part in the July 13 no-hitter against Oakland. In his previous outing, he gave up two runs on five hits over 7 1/3 innings in a 5-2 victory over the California Angels.
This time, he settled down after the rocky first to work into the seventh, and got some offensive support from a very unlikely source.
Second baseman Juan Bell drove a ball into the bleachers high above right-center field for his first major-league home run in the third inning. That cut the Mariners lead to one and might have tied the game if not for a questionable call at first base earlier in the inning.
Leo Gomez had led off the third with a slow bouncer down the third-base line and appeared to beat Martinez's throw to first, but umpire Larry McCoy called him out and brought Oates out of the dugout for a brief discussion. Chris Hoiles followed with a single through the middle and Bell cleared the American League scoreboard on the right-center-field fence.
Bell leaped into the air and pumped his fist when he saw the ball land in the bleachers -- the kind of celebratory display usually discouraged by his low-key manager -- but no one complained about his burst of youthful enthusiasm.
The Orioles completed their early-inning recovery in the fourth, when Gomez led off with a line-drive single to left and came around to score the tying run on a double by Hoiles. Joe Orsulak put them ahead two outs later with a single to center.
Mariners starter Erik Hanson entered the game with a 3-0 record in five career starts against the Orioles, but he struggled with the bottom of the Baltimore batting order. Not one of the five hitters who followed cleanup hitter Dwight Evans in the lineup entered 1991 with a full year of major-league service, but they combined to go 5-for-10 through the first five innings to bring the Orioles back.