Rhodes rocked, Jays roll, 6-2 Orioles fall to 4th with 6th loss in 7

October 01, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

There was a time when folks in these parts dared to dream that something important would come out of the four-game Orioles-Toronto Blue Jays series that opened last night at Camden Yards.

The Orioles' dreary play in mid-September --ed those hopes, but then came a secondary wish, a prayer the Orioles could grab some solace for their elimination from the pennant chase by stinging the Blue Jays here before the Canadians begin the playoffs next week.

If last night's 6-2 loss to Toronto before 45,653 chilled Oriole Park fans is any reflection, even those dreams apparently will go to waste.

Last night, as a number of nights and days have been of late, was a total waste for the Orioles, save for bases-empty homers by Jack Voigt and Lonnie Smith in the first and second innings.

Left-hander Arthur Rhodes was ineffective once again, yielding six runs and 10 hits in five innings.

The combination of bad play and the impending end of the season has left manager Johnny Oates to wonder if his team, which fell to fourth place in the AL East after its sixth loss in seven games, hasn't already ended the year mentally.

"I think it's natural," Oates said. "No. 1, we've played some pretty good teams on this homestand. No. 2, we haven't played very well and No. 3, we've played hard on this homestand. You've seen guys running out balls, you've seen guys diving out in the outfield to catch balls. But if you put together a combination of playing some pretty good teams and not playing very well, that makes for a bad couple of weeks."

Meanwhile, Toronto has won 16 of 18, including nine straight on the road, to open an 11-game lead on the Orioles -- their biggest deficit since the final day of the 1991 season.

The listlessness that has come to cover the Orioles' play the past three weeks apparently has seeped through to the fans, who couldn't even muster up a sustained attack at their villain of choice, Toronto manager Cito Gaston.

But, ultimately, the fans could do little to help the Orioles, who were held to four hits in six innings by Toronto starter Al Leiter.

Rhodes gave up all of his runs with two outs, which might indicate a failure to concentrate.

But Oates saw a sign that he has searched for from Rhodes for quite a while, namely some proof that the 23-year-old from Waco, Texas, is using more than his wonderful left arm when he pitches.

"Arthur did something tonight he hasn't done a lot," Oates said. "Arthur is finding out he isn't going to stand out there and get major-league hitters out just with his fastball.

"To be successful, he's going to have to throw some off-speed stuff. I saw him mix his pitches tonight better than he has in a long time. There's potential there. He's got to do what he did tonight and get better at it. I would have said the same thing at one point about Ben McDonald."

Rhodes (5-6) was in agreement.

"I know I can't blow everybody away. I've got to come around with an off-speed pitch," he said. "Tonight, when I tried to go out [with other pitches] it didn't work. I tried to work it out."

Indeed, in Rhodes' defense, at a critical juncture of the game, with the Orioles trailing 3-2 in the fifth and two outs, he failed to get a called third strike from umpire John Shulock on Toronto third baseman Ed Sprague on a 1-2 pitch that appeared to catch the inside corner.

Rhodes eventually walked Sprague to load the bases. Catcher Randy Knorr then doubled to left, clearing the bases and putting the game out of reach.

Of course, a strike call to Sprague would have gotten Rhodes out of trouble, but then bad things should be expected when you give up a double to the last hitter in the order, especially an order as potent as Toronto's.

But Rhodes might have had a chance if his hitters' bats hadn't continued their silence.

The Orioles simply couldn't muster an attack against Leiter, who will be a long reliever at best in next week's American League Championship Series.

The Orioles' problems last night carried a familiar ring.

Namely, a failure to come up with a timely hit in the clutch and base-running blunders, when added to Rhodes' inconsistency, made for another long night for a team going nowhere fast.

As the days wear on toward Sunday's finish, there is a wonder whether the team's slow start in April and crawl to the finish might tarnish all the good things that happened in between.

"This had the possibility of being a real good season, but for me it has been a very emotional and frustrating season," Oates said. "We got close a couple of times and played well enough to look like we were getting over the hump. Every time we did that, something happened, whether it was the eight-game losing streak or going 5-13 in the beginning or this last losing streak. It took away that enjoyment."

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