Mercker a washout again Rangers rain 4 HRs on struggling starter, cruise to 7-0 victory

Game is delayed again

Left-hander gives up 6 runs in 3 innings

June 19, 1996|By BUSTER OLNEY | BUSTER OLNEY,SUN STAFF

Orioles officials spent most of yesterday trying to negotiate a makeup date for Monday night's suspended game in an attempt to give fans their money's worth. Which begs the question: What are they going to do for those who paid to see the Rangers bomb Kent Mercker and Jimmy Haynes last night?

Mercker gave up four homers in three innings, Haynes allowed another and it took the Orioles five innings to prevent Texas from scoring. By then, fans may have been privately begging for another deluge to bring a merciful end to the carnage -- but no. A two-hour, three-minute delay in the top of the eighth inning only put off the final decision.

The Rangers won, 7-0, and the only solace was that each of the 47,318 in attendance had a better chance than usual to escape Camden Yards with a home run ball.

Darren Oliver pitched seven innings for the Rangers as the Orioles were shut out for the first time this season.

Mercker's fastball, which was up to 84-85 mph, has been down to 80-82 mph in his last two starts. "He said he's not [hurt]," said pitching coach Pat Dobson.

Said manager Davey Johnson: "It was obvious Kent didn't have too much out there today."

The long-ball honor roll for Texas: Juan Gonzalez, his 12th; ex-Oriole Rene Gonzales, his second; Kevin Elster, his 12th (and third against the Orioles this year); Dean Palmer, his 16th; and ex-Oriole Damon Buford, his third. There were more Rangers starters who hit homers than those who didn't.

It's safe to say that if the Orioles meet the Rangers in the AL playoffs, Mercker won't be starting against Texas. He has an EHA of 6.52. EHA? Earned homer average, or homers per nine innings. Mercker has surrendered seven homers in 9 2/3 innings against Texas.

He pitched in Texas on April 19 and allowed eight runs in 4 1/3 innings (the Orioles eventually lost 26-7 that night). Mercker gave up five runs in 2 1/3 innings on April 29 in a game the Orioles eventually won, 8-7. But those were mere beatings compared to last night's destruction, and the timing couldn't have been worse for Mercker.

The left-hander gave up eight hits, three walks and five runs in 2 2/3 innings against Kansas City last week, and afterward Mercker suggested that Johnson pulled him too quickly, that there was a double standard in effect.

"I guess they have no patience with me," Mercker said then. "They had a guy up [in the bullpen] in the first, second and third. . . . I had two out and two on [in the third], and he took me out. I've been pulled after one hitter, too, so it doesn't surprise me.

"If he did it with everybody, it would make more sense. But I guess it's just me. Last time I gave up two runs and got pulled after six [innings]."

Mercker and Johnson talked and seemed to smooth things over, but given the context of his start last night, he needed to pitch effectively.

He didn't. The Rangers crushed him, and there was nothing subtle about it.

Two outs and one on in the first inning, and Juan Gonzalez hammered a ball into the left-field stands. Nobody warmed up.

Rene Gonzales hit a bases-empty shot with one out in the second inning, on a first-pitch changeup that floated over the middle of the plate.

Two batters later, Elster ripped a bases-empty shot, and the smattering of boos that followed Rene Gonzales' homer became a chorus, and they continued to boo when Mercker walked off the mound after the second inning. Nobody warmed up.

Mercker pitched around Juan Gonzalez in the third inning, and with two outs, he left another changeup over the plate, and Buford homered to left-center. Johnson finally relented and Haynes began warming up in the bullpen.

The next hitter, Rene Gonzales, grounded to first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who flipped the ball to Mercker covering. Mercker hit the base and slammed the ball back to the ground behind him, and as he walked back to the dugout, boos followed. Johnson spared Mercker from any more abuse, replacing him with Haynes for the fourth inning.

What did Mercker say when told he was being replaced after three innings? "He didn't say anything," said Dobson.

Mercker didn't say anything afterward, choosing to skip postgame questions from the media.

Murphy's Law went into affect when Haynes came out to pitch the fourth. Buford ripped a homer to left, and at that point, the Rangers had made nine outs and hit five homers. Ugly. That tied the Camden Yards record for most homers by an opponent (five), and if both teams hadn't started swinging aggressively and tried to speed things along, it might've been worse.

The Rangers have thrashed the Orioles in seven of eight decisions this year, and it's because of the Rangers that the Orioles are now 2 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East.

Mercker and Haynes have mirrored each other this year. Each started slowly, each improved in May, and now each has floundered in June. And with Mercker struggling and Rick Krivda generally pitching effectively, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Mercker could join Haynes in the bullpen.

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