Yankees take off after leaving O's stranded, 6-1

June 17, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

A first-place showdown series was no time for the Orioles to play Strand-O-Matic baseball, but that is precisely what they did for pretty much all but one inning of a crucial-as-June-can-get, four-game series against the New York Yankees.

Mike Mussina was hit hard and soft last night and the Orioles didn't produce any clutch hits off Yankees left-hander Jimmy Key, the winning pitcher in a 6-1 series-clinching victory.

Only a five-run eighth inning Wednesday night kept the Orioles from being swept in four games by the Yankees, who arrived at Camden Yards leading the Orioles by one game in the American League East and left town with a three-game cushion.

Winning his ninth consecutive decision, Key (10-1, 2.99) allowed one run on eight hits and three walks in 7 2/3 innings. He lost his shutout bid when Leo Gomez (.338, eight home runs, 32 RBIs since April 27) hit his eighth home run, with two out in the eighth inning. Through seven innings, the Orioles stranded eight runners, including five in scoring position.

Excluding Wednesday's five-run eighth, the Orioles were hitless in their last 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position. During that stretch, Tim Hulett and Brady Anderson each failed on five chances, Chris Sabo on four and Lonnie Smith and Jack Voigt on three each.

For the series, again minus the big inning, the Orioles went 3-for-33 with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-9 last night.

"Sometimes when we play at home maybe we try to do too much to make the fans happy," Gomez said. "When you try to do too much, you don't do anything."

The crowd of 46,345 at Oriole Park last night was as quiet as the home team's bats. Even Rafael Palmeiro (0-for-4) was hitless, ending his 16-game hitting streak.

The Yankees raked Mussina (9-4, 2.97) for five earned runs on 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings. From the third inning on, he allowed a run in every inning but the fifth, when he left the bases loaded.

He walked three, struck out two and allowed more than three runs for only the third time in 15 starts.

"The bottom line on tonight's game was Jimmy Key was pitching for them," Mussina said. "He's as good as anybody out there. Guys were on base every inning and he made the pitches to get them out of it."

And every time Mussina walked to the mound, he saw another zero next to Orioles.

"It's tough to pitch when you don't get any runs," Mussina said. "Every mistake is magnified."

Was the series a lost opportunity?

"We lose three out of four after sweeping Boston, absolutely that's a lost opportunity," he said.

In the other locker room, Key was talking about the series as a needed pick-me-up on what was a 2-5 road trip heading into Baltimore.

"It was a tough road trip -- we knew that coming in," he said. "But this kind of gets us going again. Now we've got six games at home before we go back on the road."

The Orioles won't have another shot at the Yankees, against whom they are 2-5, until August, presuming there is an August in this strike-threatened season.

Orioles manager Johnny Oates had no reason to feel like anyone was blaming him for this loss. He was attending his son Andy's high school graduation in Virginia.

Greg Biagini took over for Oates, which technically left the Orioles without a hitting coach for the night. How fitting.

Like Mussina, Biagini was more inclined to give Key the credit rather than point any fingers of blame.

"When he least expected it, he came in hard with his fastball," Biagini said. "Other than that, he changed speeds on us and kept us off balance all night. Even when he got in trouble, he made the pitch he needed to get out of it. That's why he's 10-1."

The Biagini Era was a quiet one.

It ended last night because, surely, Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos isn't going to let this go on forever.

Biagini, a top club official indicated, will be replaced as manager by Oates for tonight's series opener against the Minnesota Twins.

Meanwhile, the Yankees headed for home having re-established themselves as the team to beat in the AL East.

Pat Kelly led the 14-hit parade by going 3-for-3 with three RBIs and his first home run since last July, off Mark Williamson in the eighth. Kelly also drove in a pair of runs with a broken-bat bloop single over a drawn-in infield.

Early, it looked as if Mussina was primed for a duel with Key.

Mussina retired the first six batters he faced until Bernie Williams led off the third with a double to the gap in left-center.

After Gallego walked, Kelly dropped a sacrifice bunt in front of the mound, putting two runners into scoring position. Luis Polonia delivered a run-scoring single to left before Wade Boggs grounded into an inning-ending double play.

In the fourth, Daryl Boston doubled with two outs and scored on Mike Stanley's single to right, putting the Yankees ahead 2-0.

More trouble awaited Mussina in the fifth, when the Yankees loaded the bases on a single and two walks. Mussina got out of that jam unscathed as Boston bounced back to Mussina for the final out.

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