Indians keep O's on run in 6-3 defeat Cleveland's 5 steals help seal Orioles' fifth loss in a row

East lead drops to 1 game

11-2 start just memory as miscues again costly

April 23, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- The Orioles were going to run away from the rest of the AL East, weren't they? They were going to build on their 11-2 start and create a comfortable margin between themselves and the New York Yankees and they were going to bury Boston before the end of April, weren't they?

No, they aren't.

The Orioles lost their fifth straight game last night, falling to Cleveland, 6-3, and in doing so, they've played themselves back into the pack in the AL East. The '96 Orioles and the 1984 Tigers, who started 35-5, have nothing in common. Carlos Baerga had two RBIs and the Indians terrorized the Orioles' pitching staff, stealing five bases and causing a run-scoring balk by rookie Brian Sackinsky in the eighth.

Role reversal is in effect with the Orioles and Indians. Two weeks ago, the Indians were stumbling and bumbling and the Orioles blitzed them in two games at Camden Yards. Now it's the Orioles who, on each given day, can't seem to hit, pitch or catch.

"I see more of a difference in the way we're playing than in the way they're playing," said manager Davey Johnson, who plans to hold a team meeting today. "We're just going to have to be a little more aggressive and turn up the volume."

But while he wants the Orioles to regain the aggressiveness that prevailed in the first two weeks of the year, Johnson hopes they simultaneously relax at the plate; he said the Orioles are pressing. "We've got guys up there just trying to do too much," said Johnson, whose team's 4 1/2 -game lead over the Yankees last week is down to one game. "It's difficult when you're always behind."

During this losing streak, they've almost always trailed. Brady Anderson has hit a leadoff homer and then the Orioles give up some early runs and then they've been forced to play catch-up.

"It's tough to come from behind, but you've just got to keep your head up," said second baseman Roberto Alomar. "We just can't let ourselves get down."

Too late. The Orioles' clubhouse was absolutely silent last night, players perhaps thinking about what went wrong against the Indians.

Left fielder Jeffrey Hammonds could've been thinking about his misplay of a fly ball in the second inning that cost the Orioles a run. Jim Thome hit a high, deep fly to left, and Hammonds drifted back, and as he reached the warning track, he stuck out his right hand, feeling for the wall. That seemed to throw off his balance: when he leaped to make the catch, the ball fell several feet to his left, at the base of the wall, and then away from Hammonds. Thome chugged into third base, well ahead of Hammonds' throw.

L Sandy Alomar singled, Thome scored, and the Indians led 2-0.

The Orioles scored in the fourth, Rafael Palmeiro driving home Anderson, but they cost themselves another run in the fifth.

Indians first baseman Julio Franco singled with one out, his third hit of the game. With Baerga batting, Orioles starter Scott Erickson threw a pitch high and outside, and catcher Chris Hoiles came out of his crouch and reached with his glove -- and dropped the ball. It was ruled a passed ball, and may or may not have been a wild pitch.

Whatever. Franco advanced to second, and came home when && Baerga singled.

"I'd say we basically donated their first three runs," said Erickson, "and this team [the Indians] is too good to be giving them runs."

The Orioles fought back in the top of the sixth, as they have fought back in most of the games in this losing streak. But they could've had more in the sixth, and they could've had more in the fourth. Palmeiro doubled into the right-field corner, Bobby Bonilla doubled to the wall in left and B. J. Surhoff singled. Nobody out, a run in, big inning in progress.

Cal Ripken hit a soft liner toward shortstop, and Surhoff, leading off first, hesitated for a split second to see whether Omar Vizquel would catch the ball on the fly or on the hop. The ball hit the ground, Vizquel blocked it and recovered and flipped to second, where Baerga turned and fired to first -- barely nipping Ripken, for a double play.

Any sort of hindrance probably would've prevented Baerga from throwing to first in time, but that slight hesitation cost Surhoff a step, and he never got close enough to attempt to break up the double play.

Surhoff stood behind second base briefly, staring into the sky. Frustration. Bonilla had scored the tying run, but that was all.

With the score 3-3, Thome led off the bottom of the sixth, and Erickson fell behind three balls and no strikes. Erickson had fallen behind Thome in the fourth inning, as well, and given the fact that Thome came into the game with a .368 career average against Erickson, the Orioles right-hander threw ball four intentionally.

But in the sixth, with three balls and no strikes, Erickson threw a fastball down the middle. Thome had the OK from manager Mike Hargrove to swing away, and he hit a line drive that required approximately .023 seconds to clear the right-field wall.

That quickly, the Orioles trailed, and later in the inning, Kenny Lofton doubled home Vizquel, re-establishing the Cleveland lead at two runs.

Erickson wouldn't survive the inning, and for the sixth straight game, the starting pitcher for the Orioles failed to pitch more than six innings.

"We came back," Erickson said, "and I blew it."

That's the way it is "when you're going bad," said pitching coach Pat Dobson. "When you hit, you don't pitch, or you don't catch. It's always something."

Always.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Cleveland Indians

Site: Jacobs Field, Cleveland

Time: 7: 05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (3-1, 3.00) vs. Indians' Albie Lopez (no record)

Pub Date: 4/23/96

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