The planets appeared to be perfectly aligned for another Orioles victory yesterday. Texas Rangers ace Nolan Ryan was on the ropes after facing four batters. Three runs were in, and Sam Horn had just hit his first triple in 879 major-league at-bats. How much more proof do you need?
The Orioles had won nine straight games at Camden Yards and seemed destined to keep that streak alive -- until a visitor from their past ushered them back into the real world.
Ryan lasted two innings, but former Oriole Jeff Robinson pitched five innings of two-hit relief, as the Rangers fought back to score a rain-delayed, 5-3 victory and split the two-game series.
That's right. The Orioles made short work of Ryan and couldn't make anything happen against a pitcher they released after a 4-9 performance in 1991. Robinson, who referred to Baltimore as a Triple-A town after he lost his place in the Orioles rotation last year, was booed upon his return to the mound, but this time he would have the last laugh.
The Rangers fought back with a shower of bases-empty home runs off Orioles starter Jose Mesa to tie the score, and shortstop Dickie Thon made the difference with two RBI singles off reliever Storm Davis. The Orioles' six-game winning streak ended. Robinson got the decision and improved his record to 3-2.
"You have to give him credit," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said. "He put five zeros on the board. He was pitching behind [in the count] all the time, but he made the pitches when he had to."
Ryan did, too, as it turned out. He gave up an RBI single to Mark McLemore and a two-run home run to Cal Ripken in the first inning, but worked out of a first-and-third, no-out situation to keep the game from getting out of hand.
Horn's triple was a turning point, but not what the Orioles had in mind. Mike Devereaux was hit in the back by a Ryan pitch to put runners at the corners. Then Ryan struck out Chris Hoiles and Joe Orsulak and got out of the inning when Leo Gomez popped out to shortstop Thon. Though the Orioles scored three runs, Oates said he knew they had let an opportunity slip away.
"When you have guys at first and third and no one out, you definitely want to get at least one," he said, "but Nolan turned it up a notch and closed the door on us. That was definitely a turning point."
The Rangers got right back in the game. Right fielder Ruben Sierra led off the second with his third home run of the season and Kevin Reimer hit the seats one out later with his third homer.
Ryan worked through the second inning before a steady rain delayed the game for 62 minutes. When the tarp came off, Mesa returned to the mound for the Orioles, but Robinson came out to replace Ryan.
The crowd of 45,481 reacted. The Orioles traded Mickey Tettleton to the Detroit Tigers to acquire Robinson before the 1991 season, and he did not live up to expectations. His parting shot ("Baltimore or Rochester, it's all Triple-A to me") came on July 30, when he was optioned to the Rochester Red Wings along with Jeff Ballard and Paul Kilgus.
He had nothing so inflammatory to say yesterday, though he acknowledged he wanted to show the Orioles brass that he still could pitch.
"I don't like to make excuses," he said. "The bottom line is, I didn't do the job they expected me to do here."
He has, however, done the job that Rangers manager Bobby Valentine expected him to do. He has worked in different roles in each of his past three appearances -- once as an emergency starter and once as an extra-inning reliever before yesterday -- and has given up two runs in 13 innings. The Rangers have won all three games.
Mesa did not pitch poorly. He worked five innings and gave up four hits, but a fifth-inning home run by Ivan Rodriguez tied the score at 3 and took him out of the decision. He has only one victory and a 3.70 earned run average in four starts.
"He threw the ball OK," Oates said. "He gave up the three home runs, but if you're going to give them up, that's the way to give them up [with no one on base]."
Davis took over in the sixth and gave up the first of two run-scoring singles to Thon. He was still around to give up the other in the eighth, because right-handed reliever Todd Frohwirth could not get loose in time to take his place.
The Orioles were not heard from again until the ninth, when David Segui and Brady Anderson hit two-out singles off Rangers stopper Jeff Russell to put the potential tying runs on base. McLemore hit a high chopper in front of the mound and was thrown out by a step.
From the time Devereaux was hit by Ryan in the first until Segui's two-out single, the Orioles had managed two hits and two walks during 8 2/3 innings.
"That's just baseball," Horn said. "Our team has been playing extremely well. This is no time to be saying, 'You didn't do this, and you didn't do that.' We lost today, but we're not going to get used to that. We found out we like winning, and I think we're going to do a lot more of it."
Home team sports lost its picture during yesterday's Orioles-Rangers telecast for about 15 to 20 minutes during the middle of the game. The problem was a power failure at HTS' transmission facility in Prine George's County, an HTS spokeswoman said. HTS picked up the Texas Rangers feed and used its own audio, which was out only briefly.