Orioles take skid to Motor City as Tigers prevail, 5-3

June 17, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

DETROIT -- Orioles manager Phil Regan implored his players to relax in a team meeting before last night's game against the Detroit Tigers. Don't press. Don't try to do too much.

They went out and didn't do much of anything. Ben McDonald walked seven hitters in six-plus innings, his teammates failed to get clutch hits time after time, and the Orioles suffered their fifth straight loss, 5-3.

The Orioles left Baltimore last weekend playing as if they were ready to turn the corner, and they've hit a dead end.

"We're a lot better club than we're showing," said McDonald, now 2-4. "We've got to get it going in a hurry. It's been ugly."

It isn't as if a five-game losing streak in June is going to finish off the Orioles. The first-place Red Sox are losing, too, and the Orioles remain eight games behind Boston. They aren't losing ground.

But they are playing poorly. They are walking too many, giving up hits in critical situations and aren't scoring runs. They are looking for some light at the end of this inconsistency, and there's none to be found.

Left fielder Brady Anderson said, "We've never really had it going this year."

Regan said, "I think [the players] are concerned. I think they're trying hard."

McDonald could not throw strikes early last night. It was not the first time that the strike zone eluded McDonald. On May 9 in Boston, he walked two and hit a batter in the third inning, his control mysteriously and suddenly disappearing. In his next start, against Detroit May 16, he walked four in 2 2/3 .

On both occasions, McDonald and pitching coach Mike Flanagan talked about how he has trouble pitching on more than four days' rest, how he's too strong.

Last night, he was pitching on five days' rest. And he was too strong.

In his last 25 innings before this game, he walked four -- precisely the number of bases on balls he allowed in the first inning last night.

Lou Whitaker homered one out into the first inning, on the first pitch, and McDonald lost the strike zone, some of his pitches sailing high and outside by almost 2 feet.

"I was just wild," McDonald said. "I just wasn't hitting my spots."

Travis Fryman, hitting .218, walked. First baseman Cecil Fielder got ahead in the count 3-1, then crushed McDonald's fastball into Tiger Stadium's second deck in left field. McDonald walked Kirk Gibson, and Alan Trammell singled Gibson to third, then stole second.

Franklin Stubbs whiffed, the second out of the inning, and Orioles manager Phil Regan ordered a walk of the switch-hitting Bobby Higginson -- hitless in his previous 16 at-bats -- to face right-handed hitting Ron Tingley, batting .182. Regan probably figured that Tingley was more pathetic than Higginson.

And McDonald walked Tingley, forcing in the fourth run. Chad Curtis flied out to end the first, but the Orioles trailed 4-0 and never recovered.

They had their chances. Again and again and again. But just as they had failed to get the big hit in the three losses in Cleveland, the Orioles, Regan said, "were just one hit away."

The Orioles left 11 runners on bases. Shortstop Cal Ripken stranded eight runners, going 0-for-4 with men on base.

Opportunities lost last night:

* Third inning, runners at first and second and two outs. Ripken grounded out to third.

* Fourth inning, runner at first and one out. Jeff Manto and Andy Van Slyke popped out.

* Fifth inning, runner at second and one out. The Orioles went on to load the bases with two outs, helped by back-to-back walks to Brady Anderson and Ripken. Rafael Palmeiro popped to short, his bat shattering.

* Finally, in the seventh inning, the Tigers thrust runs upon them. The Orioles had no choice but to score. Matt Nokes singled, and advanced to second on a passed ball. Manny Alexander hit a grounder right at third baseman Fryman, but the ball clanked off his glove, bounding toward shortstop Alan Trammell. Nokes, one of the slowest Orioles, attempted to advance, a blunder, considering the score.

Trammell, however, bailed out his ex-teammate, skipping his throw to third in the dirt and off Fryman's glove; Alexander ran to third. (Incredibly, Alexander was given a hit, and the error on Trammell's awful throw was charged to Fryman).

Curtis Goodwin grounded out to score Nokes. Anderson walked, and Ripken hit into a fielder's choice, advancing Alexander. Palmeiro singled off pitcher John Doherty, scoring Alexander. Harold Baines walked, but Manto popped out.

The Orioles just couldn't get over the hump, and with each passing day, with each loss, the 1995 season is becoming a hump in itself.

Somebody asked Regan about getting back into the AL East race.

=1 "We need to get back to .500 first," he said.

ORIOLES TONIGHT

Opponent: Detroit Tigers

Site: Tiger Stadium, Detroit

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Kevin Brown (5-4, 3.54) vs. Tigers' David Wells (3-3, 3.16)

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