O's glove Twins, 4th in a row, 2-1 Alomar, Ripken defense is key to preserving slim lead

4-0 start best since '70

Mercker impressive

R. Myers K's side in 9th

April 06, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS -- Each day of this season, Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar have made their presence felt. Clutch hits against Kansas City, and then last night vs. Minnesota, clutch defense.

Alomar and Ripken each made plays in the seventh inning to preserve a one-run lead, and the Orioles' perfect start. The Orioles are 4-0 after their 2-1 victory over Minnesota, the first time they've opened the season with four wins since 1985. Their only 5-0 start occurred in 1970, a year when the Orioles went on to win the World Series.

Chris Hoiles' sacrifice fly in the seventh, scoring Bobby Bonilla, gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead that they clung to for three more innings.

Roger McDowell relieved Kent Mercker to start the seventh and immediately he was in trouble. Pat Meares singled leading off, and with the Orioles holding Meares at first, Twins manager Tom Kelly looked to exploit that hole between first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and Alomar.

He inserted the left-handed-hitting Greg Myers as a pinch hitter. Myers flied out, but another left-handed hitter, Matt Lawton, hit a sharp grounder toward right, between first and second.

But if there was ever really a hole, Alomar plugged it, ranging over, spearing the grounder, doing a 270-degree turn and throwing out Lawton at first. Rather than first and third and one out, the Twins had Meares at second and two out.

A dangerous situation with All-Star Chuck Knoblauch hitting. He slammed a grounder up the middle. McDowell flashed a glove at the ball -- no luck. It was headed toward center field.

Ripken rarely dives at grounders, only when it really means something, when the game is on the line. Ripken dove headlong at Knoblauch's grounder, his face skidding against the artificial surface. He caught the ball in the webbing of his glove, keeping it in the infield and preventing Meares from scoring.

Tom Quinlan struck out, ending the rally.

Paul Molitor doubled leading off the eighth, but with one out, he tried to steal third. Gregg Zaun, who had just entered the game as a defensive replacement for Chris Hoiles, gunned down Molitor at third, ending a streak of 36 successful steal attempts for Molitor.

Randy Myers closed out the Twins in the ninth, striking out all three batters. It was Myers' third save in three days, and a terrific showing by Minnesota starter LaTroy Hawkins was wasted.

Hawkins' appearance as a starter last night was an accident, the latest twist in a strange spring for the right-hander.

He's the Twins' best pitching prospect over the last few years, and after being called up last September, he pitched effectively, winning a couple of games. Twins manager Tom Kelly figured Hawkins would be the No. 4 starter in the Minnesota rotation; the job was his to lose in spring training.

Hawkins lost it. He was wild and inconsistent, walking 15 and striking out 12 and giving up 31 hits in 22 1/3 innings.

As the Twins prepared to break camp, Kelly adjusted his plans, projecting Hawkins as nothing more than a middle reliever.

But Rick Aguilera, who was supposed to be the ace of the Twins' starting rotation, went down with tendinitis in his shoulder and Kelly, desperate for a replacement, turned to Hawkins.

For one night, anyway -- last night -- it was a great decision.

Hawkins struck out Brady Anderson leading off the game, the first sign that Hawkins had his good stuff. He retired the six

hitters that followed Anderson until, with one out in the third, Tony Tarasco blooped a single into center.

One out later, Tarasco was picked off, and through three innings, Hawkins had shut out the Orioles on one hit.

The Orioles went down in order in the fourth, not getting their second hit until B. J. Surhoff rolled a grounder up the middle with two outs in the fifth. Surhoff advanced no farther.

Mercker, however, was making a turnaround of his own. Like Hawkins, he had been underwhelming in spring training, allowing 23 hits and 13 walks in 17 innings.

But he overwhelmed the Twins last night. (Mercker wasn't as challenged as Hawkins, of course; the Twins are without regulars Kirby Puckett, Marty Cordova and Matt Walbeck.)

But Mercker allowed Minnesota three singles and no runs over five innings, committing his only sins by walking No. 9 hitter Matt Lawton twice. He pitched through both those mistakes.

One out into the Orioles' sixth inning, Jeffrey Hammonds hammered a long drive to left that curved . . . just . . . foul, a near home run. But Hammonds, obviously getting a good read on the tiring Hawkins, followed that up a few pitches later by ripping his first home run since last June, the first run of the game.

It didn't take long for the Twins to answer. Mercker, almost a mirror image of Hawkins the whole night, was tiring as well. Molitor rammed a leadoff double in the sixth.

Molitor moved to third on a fly to Anderson, and then Roberto Kelly lifted another fly, to right, to Tarasco, who has the best throwing arm among Orioles outfielders. Tarasco timed his catch so that he got a running start and had the full momentum of his body going forward as he threw homeward.

Molitor tagged. Tarasco's throw beat him by an instant, but short-hopped in front of Hoiles; Hoiles had to catch the bounce and attempt a sweep tag. A very difficult play, and he couldn't hang onto the ball.

Tie score. And after the sixth, both Hawkins and Mercker would leave the game in the hands of the relievers.

5/8

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis

Time: 8: 05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Jimmy Haynes (2-1, 2.25 in '95) vs. Twins' Brad Radke (1-0, 1.50 in '96)

Pub Date: 4/06/96

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