Rangers rip O's, 26-7, on 16-run 8th Mercker struggles again in 5-run first before relief collapse

Alexander even pitches

Benitez hurt

inning 2nd-biggest in century

April 20, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas -- It went from noteworthy to absurd to historic.

The Texas Rangers scored 16 runs against the Orioles in the eighth inning last night, turning a 10-7 laugher into a 26-7 blowout, the second-biggest inning in this century.

No kidding.

The pasting of the Orioles became so severe in the eighth inning that infielder Manny Alexander finished on the mound for the Orioles. It is the most runs allowed by the Orioles, smashing the previous record of 24, set by the Toronto Blue Jays on June 26, 1978.

The record for most runs in one inning is 17, set by Boston on June 18, 1953. The game lasted four hours and 15 minutes, one minute short of the longest nine-inning game in AL history.

"It's amazing," said starting pitcher Kent Mercker, who allowed eight runs in 4 1/3 innings, including five in the first. "It's a fluke. I bet you anything -- anything -- that'll never happen again. Ever."

The Orioles lost more than the game, however. Reliever Armando Benitez left the mound in the eighth inning holding his right forearm, and after the game Orioles manager Davey Johnson said Benitez will be placed on the disabled list. A pitcher will be called up from Triple-A today.

The first three Texas hitters reached base in the eighth, and Benitez was holding his arm after his 21st pitch and second walk. Jesse Orosco relieved Benitez and retired just one of the nine hitters he faced. Alexander, the first non-pitcher to throw for the Orioles since Jeff Tackett on Aug. 11, 1993, replaced Orosco and walked the first three batters he faced, before Rusty Greer flied to center for the second out. Mark McLemore walked, and then Kevin Elster hit a grand slam. Alexander stood on the mound, hands rested on knees.

The inning finally ended when Darryl Hamilton grounded out with his third plate appearance of the inning. The Orioles allowed eight walks in the inning, and 19 Rangers batted. "The best part is Manny complains and moans about coaches not throwing strikes during batting practice," said pitching coach Pat Dobson. "That's the end of that."

"A T-ball score," said outfielder Tony Tarasco.

Alexander didn't ask for the assignment and he wasn't happy he got it. "I hate this," he said, after allowing five runs in two-thirds of an inning.

The Orioles' team ERA jumped from a league-leading 3.00 to 4.53, with 26 earned runs charged in eight innings. "ERA is overrated," someone said in the clubhouse.

Few words describe the kind of beating the Orioles suffered, Bobby Bonilla said. "You can call them up on the Internet and there will be a couple there that will describe this perfectly," he said.

Johnson was angry that the Rangers seemed to be piling it on. With a 15-run lead, Mickey Tettleton tagged up and advanced to third on a fly to center. "I've seen it all," Johnson said. "But guys tagging up from second with an 18-run lead. It's ridiculous."

The Rangers saw it differently. "It was funny," said Juan Gonzalez, who homered and drove in six runs. "A walk, a walk, a base hit, a home run. It was great for us."

Dean Palmer homered twice and drove in five runs, and Will Clark also connected in the highest-scoring game by an AL team since Chicago beat Kansas City, 29-6, on April 23, 1955.

The game started bad for the Orioles and got worse. Mercker trailed 4-1 before he retired his first hitter, the Texas lead eventually building to five runs. But even after the Orioles came back to tie the score 6-6, Mercker was hit for a few more runs and finished with a pitching line of 4 1/3 innings, seven hits, eight runs (all earned), two walks and two strikeouts.

Until now, the Orioles have enjoyed a perfect harmony between the starting pitching and bullpen. The starters have, generally speaking, pitched deep enough into games that they've limited the bullpen's workload. The relievers responded, allowing just one earned run in 34 2/3 innings.

That comfort zone has disappeared in the last three days, however, and the Orioles' pitching dominos have begun a free fall. On Wednesday night, Johnson needed five relievers in a 12-inning win over Boston. Thursday, he used Orosco and Jimmy Myers after Mike Mussina as the Red Sox scored 10 runs.

Then last night, Myers was warming up in the second inning while Mercker was pummeled, and Johnson was forced to use four relievers and Alexander when Mercker again exited early. The bullpen has allowed 16 earned runs in its last 6 2/3 innings (not including Alexander), and probably won't get a respite tonight, when rookie Jimmy Haynes makes his third start of the year.

To rest the bullpen for Haynes' start tonight, Johnson needed more out of Mercker than he got.

In his last start April 13, Mercker didn't last five innings. Mercker and catcher Gregg Zaun had trouble working together, the left-hander starting the game with 15 straight fastballs, and the Minnesota Twins put together seven hits and four walks. A mess.

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