Victory helps Orioles in race to keep up Beat Brewers, 8-4, to stay 5 games behind Blue Jays

September 20, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE -- The Orioles finally snapped out of it yesterday. They scored runs and got good relief pitching to post an 8-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers and avoid a three-game sweep at County Stadium. They can only hope that it is not too late to make a difference.

The first-place Toronto Blue Jays held them at five games back with another easy victory over the Minnesota Twins, so the American League East race got a little shorter and it didn't get any better for the Orioles. There are 13 to play, and it will take something just short of supernatural to save them now.

It didn't have to be this way, of course. The Orioles didn't have to blow a 4-0 lead in the first game of the trip at Fenway Park. They didn't have to let a 4-1 lead get away in the series finale against the Boston Red Sox. They didn't have to go 24 innings without scoring before they finally got four runs in the third inning to take control of yesterday's game.

This figured to be a make-or-break trip, and it has turned out to be the latter. The victory yesterday was the club's second in six games, with three remaining against the Cleveland Indians. The Orioles were 1 1/2 games out of first place when they embarked on their final road trip of the season. They have been losing ground steadily ever since.

That's why even after an upbeat, 15-hit performance that ended their ill-timed offensive slump, the O's know the task ahead is a tough one.

"We've won two of the first six ballgames on a very important road trip," manager Johnny Oates said. "We needed to win more than two of six, so we have to go into Cleveland and win some games."

The Orioles made a lot of progress with their one-series-at-a-time approach this year. Oates took them behind closed doors in Chicago in late April and told them that the only way to get off the mat in the AL East was to concentrate on winning each series. The club has had the best record in the American League since then, but just winning two out of every three games is not going to be enough now.

The only thing that will get them back to Baltimore with a chance to have a meaningful homestand is a sweep in Cleveland. And if they don't get some help soon from the teams that fall in front of the Blue Jays, even that won't be enough to make a difference.

Nevertheless, the game yesterday should have been a tonic. Designated hitter Harold Baines had three hits and drove in four runs to lead the attack. Center fielder Mike Devereaux broke out of lengthy slump with three hits and two RBI.

Left-hander Arthur Rhodes struggled in a two-run first inning, but worked into the seventh to earn his fifth victory in nine decisions. He gave up four runs on six hits and walked five in a decent performance, but needed a strong combined relief effort from the Orioles' bullpen to hold onto the decision.

"He's got a great arm," Oates said. "He just has to be more consistent to be the pitcher we think he can be. He's still got to get ahead of more hitters and throw more strikes. You can't get by in the major leagues just throwing. You have to pitch."

The game might have turned around if left-hander Jim Poole and right-hander Alan Mills had not bailed the Orioles out of a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the seventh. Poole came on to get B. J. Surhoff on a pop to shortstop, and Mills came in to get Brewers home-run leader Greg Vaughn to foul out to the third baseman. Mills went on to pitch 2 1/3 scoreless innings and record his third save.

It didn't look good at the outset, not after the Robin Yount's two-run triple in the first inning gave starter Jaime Navarro some breathing room in the first inning. Navarro is one of those pitchers the Orioles hate to run into -- as evidenced by his 9-1 career record against them coming into yesterday's game -- and he looked as if he were throwing well enough to build on the back-to-back shutouts pitched by the Brewers the previous two games.

The Orioles had not scored in 22 innings when he took the mound. The streak grew to 24 before they struck for four runs on five straight hits to start the third.

Mark McLemore drove in the first Orioles run with a double down the third-base line. Devereaux brought home the tying run with a high chopper to shortstop that he beat out by a fraction of a step. Baines put the Orioles in front with a double down the left-field line that brought home two more runs.

Baines drove in his third run with a ground out in the fifth and his fourth with a two-out single to center in the sixth. He remains the hottest hitter in the Orioles' lineup with a .405 batting average in his past 23 games. During that span, he has reached base 47 times in 94 at-bats for a .500 on-base average.

His performance yesterday was critical to the club's survival in the division race, but he joined Oates in downplaying the big picture.

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