O's despair drawn out in 5-4 loss in 10 Rally falls run short TC after Surhoff's error aids Texas' 4-run 10th

Strong 8 by Mussina wasted

9th loss in 11 games drops Orioles from 1st

April 29, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Two weeks ago, the Orioles were threatening to go wire-to-wire in the American League East. They were 11-2 and the rest of the division had to wonder whether they would let up long enough to make the race worth running.

Those were the good old days.

Everything that was so sweet about the first half of April has turned sour for the Orioles, who wasted an outstanding performance by starter Mike Mussina yesterday and suffered another in a series of painful losses to the Texas Rangers. This one was a 10-inning, 5-4 defeat that was rendered even more disappointing when a promising rally fell silent with the tying run at third base and one out in the bottom of the 10th.

The Rangers batted around to score four times in the top of the inning, thanks in part to a costly error by third baseman B. J. Surhoff.

The Orioles rebounded with three in the bottom of the inning, one of them on Brady Anderson's major-league-record-tying 11th home run in April and two more on a redemptive RBI single by Surhoff. But with runners at first and third, Rangers closer Mike Henneman struck out Cal Ripken and got Tony Tarasco on a sharp grounder to short to end the game.

For those of you keeping score at home, that makes nine losses in the past 11 games and drops the Orioles out of first place (by percentage points) for the first time this season. The situation has gotten so frustrating that the players held a brief post-game meeting to talk things out.

"We're getting ourselves into situations where we're putting pressure on ourselves," manager Davey Johnson said. "We're wasting opportunities with runners on base. That play that B. J. made stands out, but in reality, one play never beats you."

True enough, the Orioles were 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position before Surhoff fumbled a potential double-play ball to load the bases in the 10th. There were plenty of opportunities to keep the game from getting into extra innings in the first place.

Mussina bounced back from two straight losses to deliver a strong eight-inning performance, giving up a run on seven hits and striking out seven. He gave up only a third-inning home run to sizzling shortstop Kevin Elster, but left with the game tied after throwing a season-high 132 pitches.

Rangers starter Ken Hill also pitched resourcefully, giving up just a run on six hits and five walks over 7 1/3 innings, but it was hard to tell whether it was his gutty performance or the Orioles' inability to hit in the clutch that kept the game tied into the late innings.

"We're in a stretch where we played so well at the beginning and now we're having tough luck and not getting the job done," Mussina said. "It is frustrating, but we'll pull out of this. Obviously, we have the players and the talent to do that."

The Rangers are just hoping to get out of town before that happens. They have won all six meetings with the Orioles this year and are in a position to clinch the season series with a victory in the series finale tonight. How often does that happen in April?

"We just ran into a hot team," Surhoff said. "If you take a couple of the games in Texas out of it, we've been in every ballgame with an opportunity to win."

The game yesterday was a good example. The Orioles had runners in scoring position with less than two outs in the seventh and eighth innings and could not break through against Hill or eventual winning pitcher Gil Heredia (1-2).

The Rangers finally took advantage of two walks and the error by Surhoff to load the bases against reliever Roger McDowell in the 10th and then scored three times after Johnson went to closer Randy Myers and one when Jimmy Myers came in to pitch.

Left fielder Rusty Greer broke the tie with a ground ball through the drawn-up infield and Mark McLemore hit a towering fly ball to center to bring home the second run. Elster -- who quickly has become an Orioles nemesis -- followed with a sharp single to left that scored the third run of the inning on a disputed play at home plate.

Here's the latest Elster update: He has 21 RBIs for the year and 11 of them against the Orioles. Just to put that into perspective, consider that he had only nine major-league RBIs total during the previous four seasons.

The Orioles had a handful of offensive highlights, though it is getting harder and harder for the team to enjoy them. Chris Hoiles hit his fifth home run of the season in the second inning to put the club in front and both Anderson and second baseman Roberto Alomar broke club records for the month of April.

Anderson's 11th homer broke Frank Robinson's 27-year-old club mark and tied the major-league mark with two games left this month. Alomar broke the team record for hits in April with hit No. 33 in the third inning, eclipsing the mark held jointly by Robinson, Paul Blair and Cal Ripken.

If only the Orioles could have taken full advantage of an ill-fated pitching change by Rangers manager Johnny Oates, those accomplishments would have been more enjoyable.

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