CHICAGO -- Johnny Oates has tried just about every psychological device known to managerial strategy, but the sad saga of the Orioles remains the same.
The 10-minute temper tantrum in Texas didn't work. The two-hour team meeting Monday night didn't either, if the club's performance in last night's 9-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox was any indication.
Right-hander Rick Sutcliffe was staked to an early three-run lead, but he wilted under a shower of base hits that didn't subside until the Orioles were safely on a bus to the airport. They returned home to begin a two-game series against the Minnesota Twins, another struggling club hoping to get well the way the White Sox did.
What will Oates try next? Maybe nothing.
"I'm doing everything I know how to do," Oates said. "We've had nice meetings. We've had rough meetings. We've patted them on the back. We've talked about fundamentals. We've talked about base running and situational hitting . . . and we've got big-league players covering on a stolen base with a 3-2 count and two outs. Those are the kinds of things that are killing us, and we do two or three every game."
The play he was referring to was not pivotal. Second baseman Harold Reynolds broke toward second with a runner moving in the fourth inning and Ellis Burks grounded a base hit right behind him. It was just symptomatic of the kind of thing that has hindered the Orioles from the start of the season.
"I don't want to single anybody out," Oates said, "but we've made more of those kinds of mistakes in the first 18 games than we made all last season."
White Sox right-hander Jack McDowell survived a shaky start to give up four runs in 7 2/3 innings and become the American League's first five-game winner. But he couldn't have done it without the biggest performance of the year by the once-slumping White Sox lineup.
First baseman Frank Thomas reached base in all five plate appearances and drove in four runs with two singles and a double. Center fielder Lance Johnson had four hits and scored two runs. Leadoff hitter Joey Cora had three hits and scored three times. In all, the White Sox had 18 hits. Sutcliffe gave up 12.
"I'd have to say that considering everything, that was probably one of the toughest losses of my career," Sutcliffe said. "I get so stubborn sometimes and I keep throwing my fastball. Early in my career, that's how I got out of trouble, but I don't have the ability to do that anymore. I have to use all my pitches."
Sutcliffe wanted badly to lead the Orioles out of their season-opening slump. He may be the one player on the club with the on-field presence and dynamic personality to take charge, but he was not overpowering enough last night to keep things under control.
The evening started out promisingly enough. The Orioles scored three times in the second inning on five hits and a couple of misplays by the White Sox.
Harold Baines led off the second with a line drive over the head of Bo Jackson in left, but had to settle for a long single. Tim Hulett followed one out later with a hit to right that sent Baines to third, and moved up when Burks let the ball get by him.
The Orioles took the lead when right fielder Mark McLemore lined a single to right to score both runners and further solidify his place in the lineup. McLemore moved up on a wild pitch and went to third on an infield hit by Chris Hoiles before Reynolds made it 3-0 with the fourth consecutive hit off McDowell.
McDowell leads the league with five victories, but he hasn't done it the easy way. He entered the game with a 4.07 ERA, which
represented more runs than the White Sox had averaged during their first 18 games of 1993 (3.8 runs). The three runs in the second inning ran his ERA up to 4.97 before he settled down and shut out the Orioles the next five innings.
Sutcliffe got through the first two innings without giving up a run, but he was shaky from the start. He walked three straight batters with two outs in the first before getting Burks on a pop-up. The second inning was uneventful, but the White Sox batted around to score four times in the third and added two runs in each of the next two innings to break the game open.
The eight earned runs raised Sutcliffe's ERA from 3.45 to 5.13. He faced 30 batters in 4 2/3 innings, and 18 of them to reached base.
Thomas came into the series batting .200 and had yet to hit his first home run, but he had to be happy to see the Orioles arrive. He hit 10 home runs against them the past two years, and greeted Fernando Valenzuela with a three-run shot Mon
day night. He addressed his anemic batting average yesterday, with a 3-for-3, four-RBI performance that might have been even better if Sutcliffe had not handled him with kid gloves in a couple of at-bats.
Nevertheless, the clubhouse doors were opened immediately after the game, in contrast to the night before.