Orsulak's double in 6th lifts Orioles by Rangers, 4-3 Hitting streak at 19

Rhodes' debut shaky

August 22, 1991|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Sun Staff Correspondent

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Baltimore Orioles youth movement took another step forward last night, and so did the longest hitting streak in the major leagues.

Rookie left-hander Arthur Rhodes made his major-league debut against the Texas Rangers, and he would have taken his first defeat if not for outfielder Joe Orsulak, who extended his hitting streak to 19 games with a two-run double that carried the Orioles to a 4-3 victory.

Rhodes, the newest member of baseball's youngest starting rotation, gave up three runs on four hits over four-plus innings and left the game trailing by a run. Todd Frohwirth followed him to the mound and pitched four scoreless innings to get the victory. Gregg Olson bounced back from a tough outing Tuesday night to pitch a scoreless ninth and record his 26th save.

Orsulak went hitless in his first three plate appearances, but he lined a full-count fastball into the right-field corner in the sixth inning to score Bill Ripken and Mike Devereaux and give the Orioles the lead for the first time.

Orsulak's hitting streak is the longest by an Oriole since Lee Lacy hit in 20 straight in 1985. It is tied for the fourth-longest streak this season, four games shy of the major-league-best 23-game streak that Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Brett Butler carried from June 15 to July 12.

"It's a nice streak, but it isn't earth-shattering," Orsulak said. "I've hit the ball good at times, but the last couple of games, I've just been lucky to get one hit. Hopefully, I'll start hitting the ball well and keep it going."

Manager John Oates couldn't help but give Orsulak a playful dig after the game, taking him to task for getting just one hit in each of the past five games.

"He picked just the right time for that one," Oates said. "But if he doesn't watch it, he's going to be like Rico Petrocelli. He'll hit in 27 straight games and lose 15 points off his average."

The streak began on Aug. 2, and it began just in time. His average had been wallowing in the .230s and .240s for several weeks, but he has batted .387 during the streak to raise his overall mark to a respectable .273.

His big hit saved Rhodes a loss, but it did not overshadow another important night in the evolution of the Orioles pitching staff.

Rhodes was the second rookie starter to make his major-league debut this month. Mike Mussina made his debut on Aug. 4 with a strong performance against the Chicago White Sox, giving up just four hits over 7 2/3 innings.

Every other member of the youthful rotation, in fact, can look back fondly on his first start. Bob Milacki gave up one hit over eight innings against the Detroit Tigers the day he joined the rotation in 1988. Ben McDonald pitched a four-hit shutout over the White Sox in his inaugural start last year. Jose Mesa was the least impressive, giving up three runs in a six-inning debut in 1987.

But Rhodes was making the jump from Class AA Hagerstown, where he was 7-4 with a 2.70 ERA in 19 starts. He could be forgiven for the first-inning jitters, which probably explains the two wild pitches -- make that very wild pitches -- that brought home the first two runs for the Rangers.

He was not hit hard, but he labored enough in the early innings to keep himself from pitching too far into the night. He threw 96 pitches over four-plus innings, even though he gave up only four hits.

"We've got some work to do," Oates said. "I'm sure he can throw more of his pitches in the strike zone, but he must have a pretty good fastball to throw a couple of 2-0 pitches by some of the hitters over there. When I look at someone like that, I just think of what I was like as a 21-year-old. I'm sure he was nervous, pitching this near his hometown."

Rhodes admitted to that much, but he did not seem overwhelmed by it all. He allowed a run to score on a wild pitch in the first inning and actually bounced a fastball over catcher Bob Melvin's head in the fourth for a second run, but he wasn't overmatched by the explosive Rangers lineup.

"I just went out there to throw my game and have fun," Rhodes said. "That's what I tried to do. I was scared the first couple pitches, but after that I just pitched and hoped we'd get some runs."

The Orioles had runners all over the place in the early innings.

Rangers starter Kevin Brown gave up a leadoff single and two walks in the first inning, but Devereaux was picked off first and two runners were left on base. Chito Martinez led off the second with a long double and moved to third with one out, but he was stranded when Brown struck out Melvin and Bill Ripken to end the inning.

Melvin has been one of the Orioles most effective hitters with runners in scoring position, but he came up empty in another big at-bat, striking out with runners at second and third and one out in the fourth.

The Orioles finally broke through in the fifth, after Devereaux opened the inning with a triple. Two outs later, he was still at third base, but Glenn Davis walked and both runners would score on back-to-back RBI singles by Randy Milligan and Martinez.

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