Rangers get better of O's again, 3-2 Hoiles' bid in ninth for game-winning HR falls five feet short

Johnson blasts sloppy play

Base-running blunders save Texas starter Witt

June 20, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

When they played Detroit and Kansas City, the Orioles hid their mental mistakes under floods of runs. But now they're playing the first-place Texas Rangers and the margin for error is much smaller and the blunders are killing the Orioles.

They did yesterday, in the Orioles' 3-2 loss to Texas in the first game of the doubleheader. The second game was rained out in && the top of the second inning, and will be made up today at 1: 35 p.m.

The Orioles rallied in the ninth inning for two runs and came within about five feet of victory, Chris Hoiles' deep drive with two outs nearly clearing the left-field wall for a game-winning two-run homer.

But manager Davey Johnson wasn't impressed or fooled by the late comeback. Johnson, clearly exasperated afterward, harped on the mistakes that have hurt the Orioles. "We need to start beating these clubs [like Texas]," said Johnson. "I don't know if we're not getting up, or not getting the job done. That was kind of a dying gasp at the end."

Mike Mussina, who allowed three runs in seven innings and suffered the loss, said, "If it doesn't get straightened out, we're going to end up being a .500 team."

The signs of nonlife in the Orioles appeared in the first inning and never stopped.

Bobby Witt began the game with a 6.05 ERA, and the Orioles immediately put a rally together in the first inning. Luis Polonia walked, then Roberto Alomar lined a single up the middle. Rafael Palmeiro stood in, an opportunity to stake a lead for Mike Mussina.

Witt tried to pick off Polonia at second with no luck, got the ball back, took the rubber. He glanced back at second, and there was Polonia, walking 10-15 feet off second, head down, adjusting his belt and wiping dirt off his pants.

Witt spun and threw to second, and Polonia realized he was caught. Polonia scurried around a little bit in a rundown before he was cut down. Palmeiro turned away and shook his head, and in the dugout, Johnson flung a towel in disgust.

Johnson said later: "He wasn't even looking at the pitcher or the shortstop. He was looking at the ground. Then the guy turned around. We're just not paying attention. That was just vapor lock."

There was more.

Witt walked Polonia to lead off the fourth inning. Alomar bunted expertly past Witt and in front of second baseman Mark McLemore for a hit. Palmeiro walked, and the Orioles had the bases loaded, nobody out. Bobby Bonilla, Cal Ripken, and B. J. Surhoff were due to hit.

Bonilla struck out. Ripken popped out. Surhoff flied to left.

"We had them on the ropes," Johnson said. "You'd expect we'd get one or two runs with the caliber of hitter we had coming up."

Johnson suggested that the Orioles' failure to capitalize in the fourth was cause and effect for what occurred in the fifth. Mussina got ahead of Warren Newson and threw a high fastball on a 2-2 pitch.

Newson drove the fastball into the left-field bleachers, the first run of the game.

McLemore, hitting left-handed, smacked a fastball to the opposite field, into the left-field corner, for a double. Mussina walked Kevin Elster, the Texas shortstop. Mussina's hole was getting deeper.

Texas center fielder Darryl Hamilton, a .360 hitter against Mussina in his career (9-for-25), battled to a 2-2 count.

Mussina fired a fastball to the outside corner of the plate, the pitch thumping into Hoiles' mitt. Ball three, plate umpire Drew Coble indicated, and Mussina was mad.

The Orioles' right-hander came back with another fastball, Hamilton punched it into center field, and even before the play was over -- McLemore scoring from second -- Mussina was yelling to Coble. Ivan Rodriguez doubled, and Elster rambled home with the Rangers' third run.

The Orioles' streak of scoreless innings, which began in the sixth inning Monday night, had reached 17 by the eighth inning. Mark Smith singled to lead off that inning for the Orioles.

Brady Anderson took a third strike for the first out, but Witt walked went to 3-1 on Polonia. Third base coach Sam Perlozzo flashed a sign to Smith at first -- if you can get a great jump, then go.

Smith broke from first, the pitch to Polonia appeared high but was called a strike, and Rodriguez, with the best throwing arm of any catcher in baseball, fired to second. With the Orioles trailing by three runs and Alomar and Palmeiro due to hit, Smith was out stealing. Vapor Lock, Part II.

In spite of all this, the Orioles still had a chance to win. Bonilla homered with two outs in the ninth off Witt, Ripken doubled and Ed Vosberg relieved Witt. Surhoff hit a slow roller through the right side to score Ripken, and Jeff Russell replaced Vosberg, to face Hoiles.

Russell left a fastball over the outer edge of the strike zone, and off the bat it appeared that Hoiles had hit a two-run homer. But Hoiles struck the ball with the end of his bat, and Texas' Rusty Greer caught the ball in front of the left-field wall.

Russell smiled at his luck. In the Orioles' dugout, Johnson just grimaced, confounded by his team once again.

Hits and misses

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