Tigers dump Wells, O's, 8-3 Lefty starts strong, folds vs. worst team as O's drop 4th in row

June 11, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

DETROIT -- The Chicago White Sox ripped Orioles ace Mike Mussina on Sunday and manager Davey Johnson called that rock bottom. Fair enough.

But last night the Orioles sank even deeper -- to the core, so to speak. It's one thing to lose to the Detroit Tigers, one of the worst teams ever. It's another to be embarrassed by them, as the Orioles were last night, 8-3.

David Wells pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings, gave up an RBI single to former Orioles farmhand Kimera Bartee and then collapsed like one of those imploded buildings. Not that it really mattered, what with the Orioles' offense making Tigers starter Omar Olivares look like John Smoltz.

Olivares, who had one victory and a 5.40 ERA going into last

night's appearance, kept the ball down, threw strikes and limited the Orioles to four hits over eight scoreless innings, the longest string of shutout innings by the pitiful Detroit staff this year. Only ninth-inning home runs by Bobby Bonilla, a two-run shot, and Cal Ripken off Mike Walker made the final score respectable in the Orioles' first loss to the Tigers in nine games.

But there's nothing anybody can do or say now to make what happened to Wells look any better. He went from total dominance to complete disintegration in the span of a few hitters.

"Bottom line is, I stink right now," Wells said. "It's not right. . . . I'm not staying focused. I'm messing around out there and not going after guys. It's not me and it's not right."

Pitching coach Pat Dobson said: "I don't know whether he was out of gas or lost his concentration, but he just hit a wall. For four innings, he pitched about as well as you can. All of a sudden . . . "

In preparing for this start, Dobson stressed to Wells that he needed to keep the ball down in the strike zone, and Wells clearly embraced this early. Normally a fly ball pitcher, Wells had the Tigers beating balls into the ground. He retired seven of the first eight hitters he faced, with six outs coming on grounders (including a double play that erased the one hit he allowed). He needed only six pitches in the first, four in the second -- a model of pitch efficiency.

One out into the fifth, Chris Gomez singled and stole second, his first steal of the year. Bob Higginson flied out. One more out. Bartee, the outfielder the Orioles dumped because they didn't think he would hit, was all that stood between Wells and five scoreless innings.

Bartee was property of the Orioles. Twice. Drafted by the organization in 1993, Bartee played parts of three seasons in the Orioles' minor-league system before he was the player to be named in the deal with Minnesota for Scott Erickson last July.

When the Twins didn't add Bartee to their 40-man roster in November, leaving him exposed to the Rule 5 draft in December, the Orioles snapped him back. To keep him, they would've had to carry him on their major-league roster all season long.

Bartee had trouble hitting the ball out of the cage against live pitching early in spring training, and the Orioles, believing he would never hit enough for his speed to become a major factor, placed him on waivers.

Former Orioles third base coach Steve Boros watched Bartee for six weeks during spring training in 1995, when the major-leaguers were on strike, and admired his speed and his makeup. In his new job as the Tigers' minor-league field coordinator, Boros heard that Bartee was available and told general manager Randy Smith he should claim the young outfielder.

Bartee didn't get his first major-league hit until the third week of the season, but with the Tigers so terrible -- last night was just their eighth win in their last 48 games -- he has gotten a chance to make an occasional start against left-handers. Like David Wells.

Bartee fell behind one ball and two strikes and dug in and fouled off the next pitch. And the next. And the next. Ball two. Bartee fouled off another. In the dugout, Johnson couldn't believe that Wells wasn't challenging Bartee. "Nine times out of 10," Johnson said later, "Bartee couldn't hit base fifth."

Base fifth. Whatever Johnson meant by that, it wasn't a compliment.

"He was pitching to him like he was Babe Ruth," Johnson said.

The count 2-2, Wells threw a pitch to the edge of the plate -- ball three, according to home plate umpire Dale Scott.

Wells didn't like the call. Bartee stood in, and just as Wells was getting ready to pitch, Bartee stepped out, and Wells flipped the ball about 10 feet in the air in disgust.

Finally, Wells was ready. Bartee was ready. Wells threw a fat fastball over the heart of the plate -- base sixth, perhaps -- and Bartee lined a single over short, scoring Gomez.

Wells completely fell apart. Chad Curtis doubled home Bartee, extending the Tigers' lead to 2-0. They finished off Wells in the sixth, and it didn't take much. The Detroit rally: Double, groundout, double by young slugger Tony Clark on a 3-2 changeup that shocked Johnson. "Why not just go after him?" Johnson said later, perplexed.

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