SEATTLE -- The Orioles had every opportunity to open their first West Coast road swing with a victory, or so it seemed.
They had Glenn Davis at the plate with one out and the bases loaded on two different occasions and came up empty. They had 10 base runners over a four-inning span and scored just one run.
There was no wonder why the Seattle Mariners came away with a seemingly lopsided 7-3 victory. The Orioles simply refused to make the most of a promising situation.
"There were some positive things we did out there," manager Johnny Oates said. "Billy [Ripken] had two hits and hit the ball hard three times. Hopefully, Mike Flanagan got something out of this. That's the most pitches he's thrown in a while. There were some good things we did out there, but we didn't hit well with men on base. They got the hits and we didn't."
It didn't start out as a very promising evening. Scheduled starter Mike Mussina, perhaps the most effective pitcher in the Orioles rotation, had to sit out the game with a severe stomach virus. Spot starter Jose Mesa didn't exactly deliver a clutch performance in his place. And still, it was a game that could have turned around at several junctures.
Credit Mariners left-hander Dave Fleming with a resourceful performance, one that showed why -- at 6-1 -- he is the winningest rookie pitcher in the major leagues. He won his sixth straight decision with a hard-nosed, seven-inning effort that seemed ready to blow up in his face at any moment.
Mariners designated hitter Pete O'Brien opened the Seattle assault with a second-inning home run and broke up a tie game with a two-run single in the fifth to help his club exact a measure of revenge from an Orioles team that had swept the Mariners out of Camden Yards three weeks ago. Omar Vizquel and Greg Briley each contributed three hits to a 14-hit attack.
Of course, the Mariners got a major break before the game even started. Oates was forced to juggle his starting rotation for the series when Mussina came down with a severe case of the flu over the weekend and had to be pushed back to Friday night's series opener against the Oakland Athletics. Mesa moved up a day to take his place and Rick Sutcliffe will move up three days to make tonight's start.
Mesa (1-5), who has struggled with the spot starter role from the beginning of the season, was in trouble from the beginning again last night. He worked out of trouble after giving up a leadoff double to Briley in the first, but surrendered a leadoff homer and three straight singles to open the second.
"There hasn't been a lot of difference [between Mesa's recent performances]," Oates said. "He's not throwing terrible and he's not throwing great. It's always in the middle. He gives up three or four runs and goes five or 5 1/3 innings and we end up getting beat, 7-3. Just for comparisons sake, he hasn't pitched two shutouts like Sutcliffe, but he hasn't given up six runs two times in a row either. He's just in the middle."
The Orioles had staked Mesa to an early lead when Randy Milligan lined a double off the left-center field fence with one out in the top of the second and came home on a two-out double by third baseman Leo Gomez.
But that lead didn't survive the next Mariners hitter to come to theplate. O'Brien led off the second with his 11th home run of the season, a line drive to right that didn't need any help from the cozy Kingdome dimensions to get out of the park.
O'Brien isn't exactly tearing up the league. He came into the game with a .188 batting average and a .219 on-base percentage, but when he does hit the ball, he hits it a long way. He has 27 hits -- 15 of them for extra bases.
Mesa ran into some bad luck after that, some of it of his own making. The Mariners went on to load the bases with three consecutive hits, but one of them was a looper into center field and the other a sacrifice bunt attempt that Mesa misplayed into a hit.
Vizquel laid down the bunt to move up the runners, but beat it out when Mesa looked too long at third and threw late to first. Harold Reynolds followed with a sacrifice fly that gave the Mariners the lead.
It could have been worse, especially after Cal Ripken pulled Milligan off the bag with a double-play relay, but Mesa worked out of the inning.
Ripken would turn in a great defensive play just an inning later, making a diving stab to keep a sharp grounder by Vizquel from getting out of the infield. No out was recorded on the play, but it kept Dave Cochrane from advancing from first to third and saved a run.
The play didn't come cheap for Ripken, who scuffed himself up on the artificial turf. He got up slowly, but remained in the game, rug burns and all.
The Orioles had their chance to make a big splash in the fifth inning, only to watch the Mariners turn a poor fundamental play to their own advantage. Mike Devereaux's bloop single with runners at first and second tied the game and Devereaux ended up at second base when Briley made an ill-advised throw trying )) to catch Brady Anderson at third.
That left first base open and left the Mariners little alternative but to walk Ripken intentionally. Glenn Davis came up with a chance to break the game open, but he needed just one pitch to bounce into a doubleplay and end the inning.