Bonilla, Orioles batter Tigers, 10-7 Surging slugger adds to 6-run first inning, finishes with 3 RBIs

Mussina struggles with lead

Myers gets last out with bases loaded

June 05, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Bobby Bonilla and Orioles manager Davey Johnson have reached a don't ask-don't tell compromise. Bonilla doesn't ask if he's going to be the designated hitter, and Johnson doesn't tell Bonilla if he'll remain in right field.

Bonilla's decision to ignore the whole matter has given him peace of mind -- "So to speak," he said, smiling -- and he's started hitting. Bonilla had two hits and three RBIs in the Orioles' 10-7 victory over Detroit last night, before 43,727.

The Orioles managed to stretch the Tigers' spandex ERA, scoring six runs in the first inning alone. Roberto Alomar climbed back over .400 and extended his hitting streak to 18 games with two hits and three runs, Bill Ripken drove in two runs, and Chris Hoiles hit a three-run homer. Luis Polonia stopped using his aluminum bat in batting practice, thinking it skewed his senses at the plate, and -- presto -- he had four hits, a season high.

Orioles starter Mike Mussina continued to struggle, and win, running his record to 8-2 despite allowing 10 hits, two walks and six runs (five earned) in six-plus innings. The Tigers, who've lost 37 of their last 42, mustered a ninth-inning rally, loading the bases against Roger McDowell, but Orioles closer Randy Myers struck out Chad Curtis to end the game.

It's been less than a week since the Orioles' front office mulled over the possibility of trading Bonilla to St. Louis for catcher Tom Pagnozzi and pitcher Jeff Parrett. Bonilla's average was down to .232, he was swinging anxiously at pitches out of the strike zone. If the Orioles didn't start getting more production, GM Pat Gillick said, the team might be compelled to explore their options.

But Bonilla started hitting. A single and two runs scored May 31, a few line drives June 1, three hits and two RBIs Sunday in Anaheim. Last night against the Tigers, Bonilla doubled home a run in his first at-bat, smashed a line drive to right for a sacrifice fly in the fifth, and had an RBI single in the sixth, driving his average to .251.

If he keeps swinging like this, all trade talks will cease.

"I think Bobby's getting a little more focused," Johnson said. "It looked like, at times, whatever his position was, Bobby has not been locked in mentally at the plate. I've seen signs in the last week that he's seeing the ball better and swinging a lot better."

Bonilla started the year as the Orioles DH, but Johnson is using him more in right field now -- though not exclusively. "I think when you're struggling, being the DH is terrible because you have to wait an eternity between at-bats," Johnson said.

Bonilla said he's no longer worrying about whether he's the DH or not. "You've really just got to forget about it," he said. "It's really out of my control. He's going to do what he's going to do. The bottom line is we both want to get to the World Series."

Bonilla said early in the season he didn't know how long it would take to adjust to his new role. "It's taken about nine weeks," he said last night. "Believe me, I didn't want it to take that long."

But if Bonilla is back to being the same slugger who, along with Rafael Palmeiro, carried the Orioles through last August and September, he'll be well worth the wait.

"We're going to have guys on base," Alomar said, "and it makes a big difference when a guy like him gets hot."

The offense carried Mussina last night, who labored again. He opened the year with three dominant victories, allowing a total of six runs in 24 innings. Since then he has continued to win, but has pitched erratically; over his last seven starts, he has a 6.58 ERA and a 5-0 record.

Holding a huge lead against Detroit, he walked hitters in the middle of Tigers rallies in the third and fifth inning, something Mussina never does when he's right. "Mike still hasn't pitched like he's capable of," Johnson said.

Mussina went to bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks after his last start and asked him if he was doing anything abnormally. Hendricks told him, mincing no words, that he thought his concentration had failed him at times.

Mussina said he'll continue to solicit opinions from others, as he attempts to sort out his problems. "I feel like I'm always prepared," he said, "but for whatever reason, I'm not getting it done. That's the most frustrating thing. I'm not making the pitches when I need to. . . . I've tried some things, but nothing's really worked."

It could be worse. He could be with the Tigers.

Detroit mounted a ninth-inning rally, cutting its deficit to three runs and loading the bases with two outs as the Ravens' logo was illuminated on the side of a downtown deli, to fireworks.

But Myers struck out Curtis, the lights on the Ravens' logo went dim and all in the Orioles' world was well and good again.

Pub Date: 6/05/96

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Detroit Tigers

Site: Oriole Park

Time: 7: 35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Tigers' Omar Olivares (1-2, 5.40) vs. Orioles' David Wells (3-5, 5.21)

Tickets: 4,700 remain

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