O's get royal treatment for slump Hoiles (two) leads five-homer parade in 11-8 win over K.C.

Victory halts 6-game skid

Mercker gets victory depite ugly start

April 25, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Royals are the perfect antidote to any losing streak, with their undeniable combination of poor pitching, pitiful offense and suspect defense.

What relief for the Orioles, who came into town having dropped six straight. Had they played a better team, they might've been beaten again last night. Instead, although starting pitcher Kent Mercker did almost everything possible to lose, the Orioles still beat Kansas City, 11-8.

The Royals had the bases loaded, one run in, two outs and the potential winning run at the plate in the ninth in the person of David Howard, but Randy Myers cleaned up his own mess and got out of the jam.

There was nothing artful about their effort. The bottom line: It was a victory, the Orioles' offense finally doing more damage than the O's pitching staff. Chris Hoiles hit two homers and Mike Devereaux, Brady Anderson and Cal Ripken hit one apiece -- for Ripken, his first of the season. Ripken had three other hits, for his first four-hit game since June 19, 1995.

Reliever Roger McDowell rescued the Orioles by getting a couple of double-play grounders in critical situations. Kansas City trailed 10-7 in the sixth, and had the bases loaded and one out against right-hander Brian Sackinsky, who followed Mercker. Sackinsky threw a ball to Les Norman, and Orioles manager Davey Johnson called for McDowell.

Michael Tucker was inserted as a pinch hitter for Norman, and Tucker chopped McDowell's first pitch to first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who started a 3-6-1 double play, Ripken's throw to first just beating Tucker to the bag. McDowell got another DP the next inning.

Most of the Orioles hitters have gotten hot at one time or another in the early weeks of the season, but last night they all hit. Devereaux and Anderson bashed two-run homers off Kansas City starter Chris Haney in the second inning, the first of the year for Devereaux and ninth for Anderson.

Ripken homered in the third, his going 397 feet, and Palmeiro and Ripken had RBI singles in the fourth, chasing Haney from the mound. Hoiles homered in the fifth off former Oriole Terry Clark, and Devereaux drove in another run with a single in the sixth. Every member of the Orioles' starting lineup other than Jeffrey Hammonds had at least one hit, for a total of 18, a season high.

All those hits and runs and the victory should've been simple. The Orioles compiled leads of four runs at three separate junctures. Nevertheless, they struggled to score enough runs for Mercker to win.

Other members of the baseball community -- a general manager and a couple of scouts -- have heard the Orioles are sending out feelers, quietly looking to add another starting pitcher sometime before the July 31 trade deadline. That might have been the genesis of the brief internal talks about acquiring Dwight Gooden from the Yankees. The Orioles are apparently concerned about the No. 4 and No. 5 spots in their rotation, with much justification.

Rookie Jimmy Haynes has temporarily lost his spot in the rotation, but that is hardly a shocker. Lots of young pitchers flounder early in their career, as they discover that major-leaguers are less apt to swing at pitches out of the strike zone and more apt to murder bad pitches in the strike zone.

Of greater concern for the Orioles is the early showing of Mercker, the No. 4 starter acquired from the Atlanta Braves last ++ December. He started slowly in spring training and hasn't made much progress.

Ahead of the light-hitting Royals 4-0 in the second inning, Mercker allowed the first four batters to reach base -- including a walk of Jose Offerman, batting .195 -- and almost immediately Kansas City had tied the score, aided by a couple of wild pitches.

The pattern continued in the fourth inning, after the Orioles scored three to take an 8-4 lead. Offerman doubled and when Mercker fell behind Howard 2-0, the Royals' shortstop launched a two-run homer, only the Royals' sixth homer of the year.

Mercker's changeup repeatedly flopped high and away, Hoiles lurching out of his crouch to keep the ball from flying to the backstop. Breaking balls skipped in front of the plate another half-dozen times (hence, the wild pitches), and Mercker's target continually eluded him. If Hoiles set up outside, Mercker often threw inside, and vice versa. No command. For a pitcher working with the luxury of a lead, an ugly outing.

If not for the generosity of Johnson and the fact that the Orioles bullpen will be in demand when Arthur Rhodes starts tonight, Mercker might not have stayed in the game long enough to get a victory. Sackinsky began warming up in the second inning -- and in the fourth -- and Johnson seemed on the verge of replacing Mercker a couple of times.

Mercker slogged through, however, throwing effectively enough to qualify for the victory, and just poorly enough to keep the Royals in the game. Johnson removed Mercker after the fifth, the lefty having posted this line: six runs on six hits, three walks, two strikeouts.

A bitter antidote for a losing streak -- but better than the

alternative.

Pub Date: 4/25/96

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Kansas City Royals

Site: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.

Time: 8: 05

TV/Radio: Ch. 13, 50/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Arthur Rhodes (2-0, 0.90) vs. Mike Magnante (0-0, 3.38)

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