Coppinger bruised, Royals battered Four homers power 9-3 O's win, but rookie KO'd by come-backer

Ripken hits 13th, 14th

Starter is day-to-day

Rhodes improves to 8-0

June 22, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It should have been one of those feel-good nights. The Orioles drew their largest crowd of the year and peppered the bleachers with souvenirs on the way to a 9-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals, but it could have been a much more pleasant experience.

Cal Ripken hit two home runs and reliever Arthur Rhodes became the first Orioles pitcher in 20 years to go undefeated through eight decisions, but the circumstance that led to Rhodes' presence in the game took some of the luster off the victory for the sellout crowd of 47,644 at Camden Yards.

Prized rookie pitcher Rocky Coppinger appeared to be on the way to his third straight win when he was struck above the right ankle with a sharp come-backer off the bat of Royals first baseman Jose Offerman in the fourth inning. He suffered only a )) bad bruise, but it was enough to knock him out of the game and leave his availability in question for at least the next few days.

"I hated to see that happen to Rocky," Rhodes said. "He was throwing the ball real good. I wanted to come in and shut them down the same way he did."

Rhodes took over and pitched 3 1/3 innings of one-hit relief to run his record to 8-0 -- the first Baltimore pitcher to do that since Wayne Garland opened with eight straight victories in 1976. The Orioles built a big lead in the early innings on home runs by Chris Hoiles, Ripken and B. J. Surhoff, then added some late-inning insurance when Ripken hit his second home run of the game and 14th of the season in the seventh.

But, alas, the Orioles still lost ground to the first-place New York -- Yankees, who swept a doubleheader from the Cleveland Indians to increase their AL East lead to three games.

Bad fortune just seems to come with a job in the Orioles' starting rotation, which finally appeared to be pulling out of a lengthy slump.

Coppinger was working on the strongest performance of his brief big-league career. He worked 3 1/3 innings and gave up a run on five hits, but he struck out four and the only run was partially the result of a walk that loaded the bases after he was hobbled by the leg injury.

"The good news is that Rocky's all right," manager Davey Johnson said. "He had a severe bruise on his push-off leg. He just couldn't push off. I didn't want him trying to adjust to that out there. He's got too good a future to take any chances with him. He'll probably be OK for his next start."

Don't be fooled by the 6.55 ERA that Coppinger carried into the game. The club is impressed with his performance in his first three major-league starts. He has given up some runs, but has displayed a mental toughness that belies his minimal major-league experience.

Take the early innings of last night's game, when the Royals had runners all over the place and couldn't push anyone across the plate.

They had runners at first and second with one out in the first before Coppinger struck out cleanup hitter and Orioles nemesis Craig Paquette and got catcher Mike Macfarlane to ground into a force play.

They had a runner at second with one out in the second, but Coppinger retired Offerman and David Howard on consecutive fly balls to left.

They had runners at second and third with one out in the third -- which should have been particularly discouraging because a double by Keith Lockhart appeared to be catchable in right -- but the young right-hander got a popup from Paquette and struck out Macfarlane.

"I felt like I threw the ball well," Coppinger said. "I got out of a couple of jams and that builds your confidence."

The Orioles were not so cooperative with Royals left-hander Chris Haney, who got out of a bases-loaded jam when Ripken struck out on a disputed checked swing in the first inning, but was not so fortunate after that.

Mike Devereaux got the Orioles started in the second inning with a long double off the right-field scoreboard and Hoiles followed with a line drive into the left-field bleachers for his 11th home run.

It was a big swing for Hoiles, who came into the game with just three hits in his previous 25 at-bats and last homered 10 days earlier against Detroit. He has played sparingly of late because of a bruised foot, but unloaded on a 1-0 pitch and staked Coppinger to an early two-run lead.

The Orioles added to it in the third, when Haney walked Roberto Alomar and gave up a no-out double to Rafael Palmeiro. Bobby Bonilla followed with a long sacrifice fly to left and Palmeiro tagged up from first to get in position to score on a single by Ripken.

Four runs figured to be enough against the light-hitting Royals, but it wasn't going to be that simple. Offerman's one-out shot through the box in the fourth caught Coppinger flush near the right ankle -- so flush that it bounced straight back toward home plate.

He tried to stay in the game, but threw three straight balls to Howard, and Johnson decided not to take any chances with the game or his most promising pitching prospect.

Rhodes took over with two runners on and completed the walk to Howard, but gave up only a sacrifice fly to Johnny Damon before getting out of the inning.

Coppinger did not meet the five-inning requirement to get the victory, so Rhodes registered No. 8 and set a career high for wins in a season.

"I'm very happy to be 8-0 and I should be happy with the way I'm throwing the ball right now," Rhodes said. "If I keep throwing the ball that way, I'll be 9-0 in a few days."

Orioles today

Opponent: Kansas City Royals

Site: Oriole Park

Time: 1: 05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Royals' Tim Belcher (6-2, 4.53) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (3-5, 5.47)

Tickets: Sold out.

Pub Date: 6/22/96

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