Orioles double over -- and out Tigers rock Rhodes, Valenzuela to sweep O's from race, 9-4, 6-5

September 27, 1993|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

The American League East race will remain in doubt for at least one more day, but not in Baltimore. The Orioles officially bowed out of consideration with a pair of losses to the Detroit Tigers yesterday at Camden Yards.

It was not pretty, but it was not unexpected, either. The Orioles could have delayed the inevitable with a split of the doubleheader, but they went down 9-4 in the first game and 6-5 in the second to drop eight games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays with seven to play.

The Yankees defeated Toronto, giving New York's series opener tonight against the Orioles some divisional significance. But the Blue Jays need just one victory or one Yankees loss to clinch their fourth AL East title in the past five seasons.

The Orioles looked as hopeless as their situation yesterday. Left-hander Arthur Rhodes gave up three home runs in 2 2/3 innings in the first game and Fernando Valenzuela allowed four runs in 1 2/3 innings in the second. The only positive aspect of the long, disappointing afternoon was that manager Johnny Oates got to look at a couple of his minor-league pitching prospects.

"Today was an important day for us, and we didn't play well," Oates said. "We've had ups and downs all year, and this was one of the downs."

The club was swept in a doubleheader for the first time since May 6, 1989, when it dropped two to the Seattle Mariners. The Orioles had played in 11 since, sweeping three and splitting eight. It also was the first time this year that the Orioles had been swept in a three-game series at Camden Yards, where they had the best home record in the American League until yesterday.

"We had a couple of guys swing the bat well and a couple of guys throw the ball well today, but overall we stunk as a team," Oates said. "If you can't play for first place, you play for second place. You play 162 games, not 152 and coast the rest of the way. I'm not saying that today we were coasting. Today was a case of just playing bad. We made too many mistakes."

The series against the Yankees will help determine the runner-up in the AL East, so Oates is hoping his team takes it as seriously as he will.

"I'm going to play to the end," he said. "If I'm eliminated, then I'm going to play for second place. They better know that. They are in the wrong profession if they don't know that. I think they have too much pride to do anything else.

"You leave spring training wanting to win the whole thing and when you're eliminated, you have to readjust your sights. I don't like readjusting our sights, but sometimes you have to face reality and face the fact you're not going to win the pennant. Then you go for the next best thing."

Right-hander Rick Sutcliffe, who will take the mound for the opener against the Yankees tonight, felt the same way. The Orioles still have a chance to finish second and push their win total into the high 80s.

"It's a tough day for everyone," he said. "We all had our expectations and our hopes. We just need to regroup overnight. We want to win as many games as we can. Everybody feels that way."

Perhaps it was the law of averages that caught up with the Orioles, who entered the series with a 10-0 record against the Tigers at Oriole Park. The Tigers swept the rain-interrupted series to move within one game of third place.

It could have been worse. It could have been like the last series between the Tigers and Orioles, when the Tigers scored 47 runs in the final three games of a four-game series. This one was one-sided, but it wasn't batting practice.

Valenzuela may have made his final appearance as an Oriole. He was the club's most effective pitcher for a month-long stretch from June 30 through the end of July, going 4-0 with an 0.65 ERA over five starts. He was the AL Pitcher of the Month in July, but since July 23 has won once in 12 starts.

He has been particularly unsuccessful against the Tigers -- as evidenced by his 38.57 ERA in two starts against them -- but managed to survive both without a loss.

The Orioles got him off the hook with a four-run fourth inning that knocked Tigers starter Mike Moore out of the game, but Valenzuela still suffered for his futile effort. The three earned runs raised his ERA to 5.02, which will not look good when he begins looking for work during the off-season.

Mark McLemore put the Orioles ahead with a fifth-inning single on the way to one of two three-hit performances for the Orioles in the second game. Mike Pagliarulo had two singles and an RBI double, but the Tigers rebounded with a run in the sixth and won the game when former Oriole Mickey Tettleton tripled off reliever Alan Mills to drive in the game-winner in the ninth.

The first game was decided in a hurry. Rhodes gave up back-to-back home runs to Eric Davis and Alan Trammell in the second inning and a three-run shot to Cecil Fielder in the third to even his record at 5-5.

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