Twin letdowns leave Orioles reeling Failures in clutch negate solid pitching

July 06, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS -- When a team, any team, leaves the Metrodome after having allowed only six runs in three games, it should go out on the broom symbolizing a sweep.

At the least there should be two entries in the win column. Which is why the Orioles fled town last night feeling as though they had been mugged.

The Minnesota Twins managed only six runs in three days. During the 33 innings played, the defending World Series champions were able to score in only four.

Yet, after a second straight pulsating finish, the Twins escaped with two wins and took sole possession of first place in the American League's Western Division. The stunned Orioles, who finished with nine runs while scoring in just five of the 33 innings over the weekend, meanwhile lost two games in the standings and trail first-place Toronto by three games in the AL East.

"We were very fortunate to get some key hits the last two days," Minnesota manager Tom Kelly said after the Twins scored twice in their last at-bat for the second straight game to beat the Orioles, 2-1, yesterday. The victory came less than 24 hours after excruciating, 15-inning, 3-2 win Saturday.

"It was a very, very good series, with exciting games, big crowds, great pitching and a lot of good plays," Kelly said of a weekend unlike any he's ever spent in the usually homer-prone Metrodome.

It wasn't as easy for Orioles manager Johnny Oates to describe the three-game set in such glowing terms. His team left the base paths cluttered with 24 base runners the last two days -- 13 of them in scoring position (five at third base) with less than two outs.

Deciding which of the last two games was most devastating for the Orioles would be like choosing between lethal poisons. There wasn't any more for Oates to say, to either his club or the media, after yesterday's loss as there had been the day before.

"There's no need to say anything [to the Orioles]," said Oates. "They know what's going on. A man on second for the first seven innings [yesterday] -- men on third base and swinging at the first pitch no matter where it is."

Offensively, both the Orioles and Twins spent the weekend in a )) deep slumber -- much of which can be attributed to excellent pitching. But the Orioles made at least half a tour of the bases a lot more often than the Twins.

Yesterday the Orioles wasted a superlative effort by Rick Sutcliffe (10-7), who pitched long enough to get the loss &L because of his stature with Oates. A one-out pinch-hit double by Donnie Hill in the ninth inning finished Sutcliffe, but it was a well-directed ground ball single by Randy Bush (hitless in his previous 15 pinch-hit efforts) that proved to be his undoing.

Oates, who admittedly doesn't want to risk a loss by his starter in such situations, let Sutcliffe pitch to one hitter more than he would have allowed to anyone else on the staff. It might have cost him a game, and the memory of reliever Gregg Olson losing Saturday might still have been vivid, but the manager said he had no regrets about not making a change after Bush's infield hit.

"The way he hit it, I didn't think about making a change," said Oates. "If he had smashed it, maybe I would have. But he just hit a ground ball.

"I felt very comfortable with Sutcliffe in that spot. Other times this year, maybe I wouldn't have, but he's probably the only pitcher I would have let go out there for the ninth inning."

Second baseman Mark McLemore made a good play to get to Bush's grounder (which diving first baseman David Segui barely missed). But McLemore had to hurry a throw to Sutcliffe, and the ball skipped in the dirt and the pitcher was unable to make the catch that would have retired Bush.

Hill's ensuing double and an intentional walk to pinch hitter Gene Larkin, loading the bases, eliminated any margin for error. It also set up Olson as the common denominator in the Orioles' successive losses to the Twins.

This time, however, the right-hander could only curse his fate, not his performance. "I made the pitches I had to make," said Olson, who took a crushing setback in Saturday's 3-2 loss after it appeared he had the game under control. "This time I came very close to getting out of as bad a situation as you can have.

"Last night [Saturday] I had that team down as far as it could go [two outs, nobody on base and two strikes on the hitter) -- and I didn't finish it off," said Olson. "That game played with my mind a little bit -- but this one fixed it," said Olson. "All I wanted was a ground ball and I got it. I'll take that same play 100 times -- you can't ask for any more than that."

Chuck Knoblauch, who had started the Twins' winning rally in the 15th inning Saturday, was the key batter for Olson yesterday. His bouncer to McLemore was hit just slow enough for him to beat shortstop Cal Ripken's return throw. The Orioles screamed in protest of Terry Cooney's call on the potential game-ending double play, which allowed the tying run to score, but replays upheld the umpire's call.

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