Yielding 1st '94 hit is pain in ankle to Smith

ORIOLES NOTEBOOK

April 18, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Texas -- In the fifth appearance of his Orioles career, closer Lee Smith finally allowed a hit. He paid with pain.

Breaking to cover first on a ball hit down the line by Texas' Rob Ducey in the ninth inning of the Orioles' 6-4 victory Saturday night over the Rangers, Smith turned his left ankle.

"You give up a hit and you get hurt," said Smith, wearing an ice pack around the ankle. "I guess I better not give up any more hits."

Smith remained in the game to complete his fifth save in five tries. He said the ankle won't keep him from pitching -- a prediction that proved true less than 24 hours later when manager Johnny Oates was forced to call on him in the Rangers' three-run ninth inning last night.

Smith allowed two more hits, including an RBI single by David Hulse, but still notched his sixth save in six Orioles appearances.

"It was a little sore, but that's not the reason they got the hits," Smith said last night.

Smith also had downplayed the injury the night before.

"I felt something pop, but it's not swollen real bad," Smith had said Saturday night. "It's the same ankle I was taping in spring training, then I got smart a couple of weeks ago and stopped taping it. I'll be all right."

Smith said he first irritated the ankle playing basketball to stay in shape during the off-season.

"I paid $150,000 for the gymnasium, so I better use it for something," he said. "I said I was building it for the kids, but I mostly use it myself. And they won't even let me use it as a tax write-off."

Smith said winter X-rays of the ankle revealed bone chips that did not require surgery.

Smith poked fun at his lack of grace as a fielder Saturday, saying, "I ain't no stylemaster out there," and "Speed kills, don't it?"

With his double, Ducey became the first base runner allowed by Smith.

"Who threw more pitches, me or Ben?" Smith asked Sid Fernandez, who charted the pitches and informed Smith he threw 30. "I was trying hard to catch Ben [McDonald, the starter, who threw 116]."

Last night Smith threw 15 pitches, coming on with none out after Alan Mills yielded home runs to the first two batters he faced and a single to the third, David Palmer.

Baines clutch again

Three days off enabled Oates to leave hot-hitting designated hitter Harold Baines in the lineup for each of the Orioles' first nine games.

As it turned out, Baines did his most harm on the day of his first non-start.

Baines delivered a three-run triple in the eighth inning of the Orioles' victory Saturday night. The Orioles batted around in the eighth to win a game they trailed 3-0.

Texas manager Kevin Kennedy, who normally saves closer Tom Henke for save situations, brought him in to replace Jay Howell, the fourth of seven Texas pitchers, to face Baines with two outs, the score tied 3-3 and the bases loaded.

"He's the best hitter on that team," Henke said of Baines. "I had nowhere to put him. So I just went right after him. I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. It's not like we're pitching to Little Leaguers."

Baines, who had gone 394 games between triples, said getting one instead of a double didn't mean a thing to him, only driving in the runs.

"The only reason I went to third was to score the run," said Baines, who went 2-for-4 last night (including an equally rare infield single) to lift his average to .400. "I was trying to get them to cut the throw."

Baines said he guessed right that Henke's first pitch would be a forkball. Baines must make similar correct calls often, considering his first-pitch average of .390 over the past five years, best in the majors.

He had a history of producing in the clutch on his side. Baines has had a higher batting average with men on base than with the bases empty in 10 of the past 11 seasons.

McDonald's elbow unchanged

McDonald said his elbow came out of Saturday night's start "no different than the last start. Nothing unusual. I don't think it's getting a whole lot better and I don't think it's getting any worse. It's about the same. I can live with it."

Admittedly shaken by a botched pickoff play, McDonald allowed sixth-inning home runs, to Jose Canseco with one on, and Will Clark with the bases empty, putting the Orioles behind 3-0.

Equal opportunity power

Rafael Palmeiro already has matched his 1993 home run totals against left-handed pitching.

Only two of Palmeiro's 37 home runs last season were off lefties. He has cleared the fences against Kansas City reliever Bill Brewer and Texas starter Kenny Rogers, one of his closest friends.

Palmeiro came into this season hitting .286 with one home run every 41 at-bats against left-handers, .299 with one homer every 26 at-bats against right-handers.

B. Ripken playing more

Texas second baseman Bill Ripken started the season as a long shot to make the Rangers' roster, won a reserve role, and now has played his way into becoming a platoon player.

Ripken will play against most left-handed pitchers, platooning with switch-hitter Doug Strange, a better hitter from the left side. Both second basemen went 1-for-2 last night.

In the series against the Orioles, Ripken started twice, against left-handers Arthur Rhodes and Fernandez.

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