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 rally comes up short

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 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 can't seem to hit, pitch or catch.

The Orioles came back from two runs down in the top of the sixth, tying the score against Cleveland starter Charles Nagy. They had momentum. They had a shot to shut down the losing streak, and maintain that two-game lead over the Yankees.

That all changed in the bottom of the sixth. Cleveland third baseman Jim Thome led off and Orioles starter Scott 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 pitcher threw ball four intentionally.

But in the sixth, 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 Omar 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.

After Sunday's loss in Texas, Orioles manager Davey Johnson talked about how poor pitching can wear on the offense, because no matter what the hitters accomplish, it isn't enough.

In the first four games of the losing streak that began April 18, the Orioles scored 23 runs, an average of almost six runs a game -- and were outscored by a total of 30 runs. Playing catch-up all the time, catcher Chris Hoiles admitted, "can take a lot out of you."

Falling behind the Indians in the first inning last night must've been somewhat disheartening, then. Lofton bunted for a hit. First baseman Rafael Palmeiro had to hold Lofton at first, creating a hole that Julio Franco singled through, Lofton speeding to third.

Carlos Baerga lifted a fly ball to right, medium depth. If Baerga's fly had gone to left or center, to Jeffrey Hammonds or Brady Anderson, the Orioles would've had no chance at throwing out Lofton at home. But Tony Tarasco, who has the best arm of any Orioles outfielder, backed up a little to get some momentum into his catch.

His throw was a good one, but Tarasco was slow unloading the ball and that might've been the difference, Lofton sliding home just ahead of Hoiles' tag.

Hammonds' defense improved noticeably in left during the Orioles' fast start. On Sunday, however, he misjudged a line drive that turned into a Dean Palmer triple.

Hammonds botched another play last night, and it cost the Orioles a run. 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 and he missed the ball, Thome chugging into third.

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

The Orioles countered, with a run in the fourth, but they could've had more. Anderson doubled to right-center, and Roberto Alomar moved Anderson along by grounding out to first.

Palmeiro singled home the Orioles' first run, and the threat mounted when a potential double-play grounder bounced off Indians second baseman Baerga. Bobby Bonilla was safe at first, and Palmeiro moved to third.

But B. J. Surhoff popped out in the infield, and Cal Ripken grounded weakly to third.

Cleveland took back that run in the fifth, and another run courtesy of sloppy play by the Orioles. Franco singled with one out, his third hit of the game. With Baerga batting, Erickson threw a pitch high and outside that Hoiles couldn't handle. It was ruled a passed ball, and Franco scored when Baerga singled.

Again, the Orioles' offense battled back, something they did when the club was winning, something they continue to do during this losing streak. Palmeiro doubled, Bonilla doubled and Surhoff singled. Nobody out, a run in, big things happening.

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