McDonald wild O's stranded 7 walks, silent bats lead to 3rd loss, 6-0

April 10, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

SEATTLE -- The 1993 season began with much promise and expectation in Baltimore, and it's far too early to draw any negative conclusions about the Orioles. But it is fair to say that the first week of play has not gone according to plan.

Nobody figured on a Opening Day blowup by Rick Sutcliffe. Nobody expected stopper Gregg Olson to give up a game-winning home run in the second game. Nobody expected the new-look offense to have the same old problems in clutch situations.

That has all come to pass and more. The Orioles remain winless in 1993, and they looked even more hapless in last night's 6-0 loss to the Seattle Mariners than they did during the two-game homestand against the Texas Rangers.

Right-hander Ben McDonald allowed a career-high seven walks and didn't get out of the second inning, which put so much strain on the bullpen that Fernando Valenzuela was forced to make his Orioles debut four days ahead of schedule.

The Orioles' offense, which was supposed to be much more cohesive with the addition of free agents Harold Baines and Harold Reynolds, still is trying to figure out how to get a run home from second base. The club went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranded 15 runners to equal the major-league record for runners left on base by the losing team in a shutout.

That's right. Combined with a similar performance Wednesday night, Orioles batters are hitless in their last 25 at-bats with runners in scoring position and 2-for-30 this season in clutch situations. Perhaps some credit is due to Mariners starter Erik Hanson, who pitched six shutout innings to earn the victory, but the pattern predates his 1993 debut.

"I'm sure we've had streaks like this before," manager Johnny Oates said. "All you have to do is have patience and keep working. It's going to get better."

It is only the eighth time in the Orioles' 40-year history that they have started a season with three straight losses. It certainly is no time to panic, but the events of the past five days have got to be unsettling.

What happened to McDonald? He was the Orioles' winningest pitcher during the exhibition season (4-1), but he came back on five days' rest and didn't have a clue where to find the strike zone. He was in trouble from the moment he walked to the mound in the first inning until Oates removed him with one out in the second.

"I've never seen him as erratic as he was with his control today," Oates said. "He's not a high walk-type guy."

The pitching line -- as bad as it was -- didn't even tell the whole story. McDonald was fortunate to get off with just three runs after a tedious performance that included seven walks and enough pitches to get a lot of starting pitchers into the fifth inning.

McDonald threw 55 in all, or an average of 14 for every out he recorded. He walked three in the first and escaped with just one run across. He walked four of the first five batters he faced in the second inning to force home a run and left the game with the Orioles trailing only 2-0.

"I've never, ever walked in a run before as long as I've been pitching -- since I was 5 years old," McDonald said. "It's something I can't explain. I had no idea. I walked four or five guys in 28 innings in spring training. I don't know. I can't explain it. I thought I had pretty good velocity, but it got to the point where I was trying three or four different arm slots."

There was no obvious explanation for his unprecedented lapse of control. Perhaps he was so pumped up for his first start of the season that he was overthrowing. Perhaps he was out of sync with the extra day of rest. Whatever the reason, he was never able to collect himself.

The game was far from a lost cause at that point. Reliever Mark Williamson came on to get the Orioles out of the inning while they still had a chance to come back, but he ran into trouble himself in the third.

Jay Buhner and Wally Backman opened the inning with back-to-back singles to put runners at first and third and Dave Valle brought home a run with a sacrifice fly. By the time Omar Vizquel gave the Mariners a six-run lead with a two-run single to center, Valenzuela was warming up in the bullpen.

His first major-league appearance since 1991 didn't last long. He retired all three batters he faced in short order to remain on schedule for his first start on Tuesday night at Arlington Stadium.

If the pitching breakdown wasn't enough frustration for one night, the Orioles offense remained in a state of vapor lock for the third straight game. The club had runners in scoring position in each of the first six innings, but got the same kind of clutch hitting that turned the season-opening two-game series in Baltimore into a Texas barbecue.

Hanson was not particularly overpowering, but he apparently didn't need to be. Five of the seven hits he gave up through his six innings of work were for extra bases.

He is trying to bounce back from a horrible 1992 season in which he was 8-17 with a 4.81 ERA, but he hasn't missed a beat against Baltimore. Despite his lopsided losing record last year, he still won both of his '92 decisions against the Orioles. Last night's victory improved his career record against them to 6-1.

O'S WORST STARTS

Year ..... Start ..... Finish

1988 ..... 0-21 ...... 54-107

1955 ..... 0-6 ....... 57-97

1978 ..... 0-5 ....... 90-71

1984 ..... 0-4 ....... 85-77

1956 ..... 0-3 ....... 69-85

1959 ..... 0-3 ....... 74-80

1977 ..... 0-3 ....... 97-64

1993 ..... 0-3 .......

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