CLEVELAND -- The Orioles could blame the cold, the 16-degree wind-chill factor making for less than ideal playing conditions. They could blame first base umpire Tim Tschida, who blew a call that cost the Orioles some critical runs.
But really, they have only themselves to blame after losing their sixth straight game last night, a wrenching 9-8 loss to the Cleveland Indians. They had a sizable lead early, ace Mike Mussina pitching, and even after Mussina lost the lead, they repeatedly rebounded -- and still they lost. Manny Ramirez and Albert Belle each hit three-run homers for the Indians.
The only thing that went right for the Orioles occurred about 1,000 miles away in Kansas City, where the Royals broke their own losing streak to beat the New York Yankees. The Orioles' one-game lead remains intact. For now.
The Orioles play the Royals, the sacrificial lambs of the AL, today and tomorrow, a series that couldn't have come at a better time for a team starving for a victory. For 3 1/2 innings last night, it seemed like that losing streak would end.
Bobby Bonilla broke a scoreless tie with a two-run homer in the fourth and two batters later, Cal Ripken drove in B. J. Surhoff and the Orioles led 3-0. A three-run advantage, Mussina on the mound, showing good stuff through the first three innings. A sure thing, a gimme. You wouldn't have blamed the Orioles if they were thinking these things on a cold night, after five straight days of misery.
The Indians were hitless two batters into the fourth inning, Mussina in complete control. Then the comeback started.
Carlos Baerga singled. Mussina pitched around Belle, walking him. Eddie Murray doubled inside the third base line, scoring one run. Mussina, knowing that Ramirez loves to chase fastballs up or down or inside or outside, threw a high fastball, and Ramirez chased.
The pitch wasn't high enough, but still, few hitters can hit a high, riding fastball to the opposite field for a homer. Ramirez did, a three-run homer, and the sure thing -- Mussina pitching with a three-run lead -- had evaporated, all with two outs.
The Orioles came back, as they always do, tying the score in the fifth on an RBI single by Roberto Alomar. They knocked out Albie Lopez.
Right away, the Indians fired back. A single by Sandy Alomar, an RBI double by Omar Vizquel, a bunt single by Kenny Lofton and a sacrifice fly by Julio Franco. Davey Johnson sat and watched in his heavy winter parka, occasionally staring down at the dugout floor, averting his eyes from the horror.
The Indians scored three more runs in the seventh, helped along by an umpire's mistake. Two outs and Franco hit a sinking liner to right, and Tony Tarasco rushed in and dove, and as he rolled over, he showed his glove to Tschida, evidence of a catch.
The ump waved his arms parallel to the ground: Safe. Tarasco ran in to return the ball to the infield and challenged Tschida. Rightly so -- replays showed Tarasco had made the catch, and because second base umpire Don Denkinger sat out the game with a pulled muscle, Tschida had the last word.
Baerga singled, and then Belle hit a monster home run over the center-field wall, his seventh of the year. Johnson walked out to relieve Mussina from one of the worst starts of his career; never before had he allowed nine runs.
The Orioles came back again, in the eighth. They always come back. Hoiles hit a two-run double, Jeffrey Hammonds drove in a run with a fielder's choice grounder, and Brady Anderson doubled off the left-field wall, extending his hitting streak to 10 games. Four runs across, but one run short.
Jose Mesa retired the Orioles in order in the ninth, and the Indians had avenged their two losses in Camden Yards earlier this month, on a night when they started a rookie against the Orioles' ace.
Lopez was pumped up early, and with hitters on both sides looking stiff in the cold and swinging tentatively, he overmatched the Orioles. Lopez struck out Bonilla to close out the first inning, and powered through the second, whiffing Surhoff, Ripken and Hoiles in succession. Hammonds struck out in the Orioles' hitless third inning, the Jacobs Field crowd roaring in approval. What a plot line, the rookie, shutting down the $48 million Goliaths.
Either the rookie tightened from the cold, or the Goliaths made adjustments, because the second time through the order, the Orioles hammered away at Lopez. Alomar singled to start the fourth inning, and one out later, Bonilla abused an inside fastball and drove it so far over the wall in right that Ramirez didn't bother to pretend he even had a chance to catch the ball, standing frozen in his frozen tracks.
Surhoff sustained the rally, slapping a double to left and creating an RBI opportunity for Ripken, who had changed his stance again in an effort to break out of a slump that has plagued him since the first week of the season.
Ripken smashed a grounder inside the third base line, Surhoff scoring easily.
A three-run lead, Mussina on the mound, a sure thing.
Pub Date: 4/24/96
Opponent: Kansas City Royals
Site: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
Time: 8: 05
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Kent Mercker (1-1, 9.00) vs. Royals' Chris Haney (0-3, 3.91)