Bullpen, O's fall short, 7-4

April 28, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS -- The basic refrain in the Orioles' clubhouse after their bullpen collapsed in a 7-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins last night is that this is just a temporary problem, something very finite.

New manager Phil Regan said it; relievers Alan Mills and Brad Pennington said it.

If they're right, then, they can look upon these first two days of the season and laugh. If they're wrong, well . . . they can forget about competing with the New York Yankees or Toronto Blue Jays.

The pitching problems were augmented last night by two Cal Ripken errors, the first time he committed multiple errors in almost two years.

But even after Ripken made his errors, the Orioles led 4-3. The decisive blows came against the bullpen. Minnesota scored two runs in the sixth and two in the seventh against Orioles relievers.

Before Armando Benitez retired the Twins in the seventh and eighth innings, after the game was effectively decided, these were the cumulative stats of the Orioles' bullpen, including the season opener: four innings, 10 hits, nine runs (seven earned), six walks and three strikeouts.

"I think the bullpen is throwing good," Regan said afterward. "There've just been certain outs we haven't gotten."

The first critical Out That Got Away came in the sixth inning. One out, runners on second and third, and Regan left left-hander Brad Pennington in the game to pitch to left-handed catcher Matt Merullo.

Pennington, throwing a succession of fastballs -- too many, he would say later -- left one over the plate, and Merullo attacked it, hitting a two-run double.

The next big Out That Got Away came in the seventh. The Twins loaded the bases with nobody out against Mills. Single, walk, wild pitch, another walk. Mills needed an out; he needed to strike out Jerald Clark. But Clark rolled a single between Ripken and third baseman Leo Gomez, two runs scored, and the Orioles were, for all intents and purposes, finished.

"It's kind of strange," Mills said. "The last two times I pitched in spring [training], I didn't feel very good but I did pretty well. Since the season opened I've felt good, but . . . ."

But . . . he has given up four hits and two walks in two-thirds of

an inning.

Funny, too, that the Orioles played defense so well in spring, making only six errors in 12 games. Already they have four errors and have allowed four unearned runs in the regular season; for all of 1994, they allowed 19 unearned runs.

Both of the errors by Ripken, who made only three errors in the entire 1990 season, led to Minnesota runs.

Shocker No. 1: Ripken mishandled a grounder by Twins left fielder Marty Cordova in the second inning, and Cordova eventually came around to score the Twins' first run.

Shocker No. 2: With two outs in the fifth inning and Scott Leius on third, Alex Cole hit a bouncer up the middle to Ripken, positioned perfectly against the speedy center fielder. Ripken reached down, no problem, and . . .

Oops.

The ball bounced off Ripken's glove. He reached to pick up the ball, saw he had no chance to throw out Coles, saw Leius crossing the plate. Ripken's body jerked as he vented angrily, and he kicked at the dirt near second base. Shades of Joe DiMaggio in the 1947 World Series.

The second error sent press box archivists scrambling for their ,, record books, and this is what they found: the last time Ripken made two errors in one game was June 1, 1993, in Oakland. A span of 224 games.

"I simply got eaten up by the balls," Ripken said. "I wish I had a better explanation than that, but the ball just ate me up.

"It is disappointing in the fact that [the errors] cost us a couple of runs. It could've changed the entire complexion of the game."

The Orioles held the lead three different times, at 2-1, 3-2, 4-3. Ripken had three hits, and newcomer Andy Van Slyke had a big day.

The Orioles signed Van Slyke last week after he passed a two-day audition.

Good thing that audition hadn't extended through Opening Day, when Van Slyke gave a strong performance of a fading veteran struggling to recover from serious back problems.

He went 0-for-3, striking out once, but that wasn't particularly significant; all of the Orioles couldn't find a clue against the forkballs and sliders of Kansas City Royals starter Kevin Appier.

His defense, however, was another story. A bad one. Van Slyke (( misread a ball off the bat of Royals center fielder Tom Goodwin in the sixth inning, and the pop fly fell in front of him for a single, leading to K.C.'s first run. Later, Van Slyke and Sherman Obando made like monster trucks, crashing into each other on a fly ball. That mistake cost the Orioles two more runs.

Van Slyke, then, had plenty of cause for redemption when he came to bat in the second inning, with Chris Hoiles on first base and two outs. He golfed a low pitch by Kevin Tapani over the baggy in right field, the Orioles' first homer of the year.

Leo Gomez bounced a single between short and third, and at that moment, two outs into the second inning, the Orioles had as many hits against Tapani -- two -- as they had in nine innings of trying to hit Appier and his relievers in the season opener.

In addition, Van Slyke's homer was the Orioles' first extra-base hit of the year.

Starter Ben McDonald was effective, giving up just one earned run over five innings. But there were too many mistakes, errors and bad pitches.

"This game was disappointing," said McDonald. "Yesterday, Appier just threw a hell of a game, and that can happen to anybody. Today is a disappointment, because we kind of beat ourselves."

ORIOLES TONIGHT

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis

Time: 8:05

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Sid Fernandez (6-6, 5.15 in 1994) vs. Twins' Pat Mahomes (9-5, 4.73 in 1994).

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