O's loss is open and shutout case 4-0 defeat bad send-off for tough, 10-game trip

June 24, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

It's too early to watch the scoreboard, several Orioles said yesterday, too early to suggest the 10-game road trip that begins today is critical. But by the time the Orioles return home July 4, there is a chance the first-place New York Yankees could be distant figures.

Shut down on two hits by Kansas City ace Kevin Appier in a 4-0 loss yesterday, before 47,608 at Camden Yards, the Orioles continue to plod along, doing just enough to get by, not doing enough to take control of the AL East.

They won three and lost three in the homestand that just ended, and they've gone 28-30 since April 17 -- and fallen four games behind the Yankees, the Orioles' largest deficit since May 8.

With more than two months of mediocre play behind them, the Orioles start a three-game series tonight against the Texas Rangers, who've beaten the Orioles eight out of 10 this season, and then go to New York for four games against the Yankees -- who just swept four games in Cleveland. The Orioles finish the road trip with three games in Toronto.

"We have to have a decent road trip," said general manager Pat Gillick. "I think a decent road trip will be at least 5-5. We hope for 6-4, but if we can get 5-5, that wouldn't be too bad, playing New York and Texas seven games."

But if the Orioles don't play well, if they continue to have trouble scoring runs when they don't hit homers, if their defense is erratic and they win two or three of the 10, there's a chance they could return to Baltimore six or seven games out of first place. A deep hole.

If the starting pitching is solid, as it has been over the last two weeks, the Orioles could win six or seven and pick up a game or two in the standings, stay close as the All-Star break approaches.

That's why this particular road trip, even in June, is important.

"It's a road trip you want to at least break even on," said veteran reliever Roger McDowell. "You hope we'll get to the point where we can do that. It is an important trip.

"You have a team in our division [the Yankees] . . . and the easiest way to make up ground is to beat the first-place ballclub."

Appier made sure the Orioles missed their final opportunity to beat on last-place Kansas City this season. He's been bothered by a sore arm over the last month and was making only his second start in two weeks, but that had no apparent effect on him; he threw strikes when he needed to, changed speeds, confused the Orioles.

L "Too much Kevin Appier," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson.

Too much Kevin Appier. Two Orioles hits, and none after Gregg Zaun singled with one out in the third. No runner advanced past second base, and the Orioles had a total of two base runners over the last six innings against Appier and Mike Magnante, the latter pitching the ninth inning.

Zaun, facing Appier for the first time in his life, talked reverently about how strange it was to face the right-hander, who hurls himself awkwardly toward first base as he delivers. Zaun would see Appier's body flying to the side, and suddenly realize a fastball had zipped past. Never, Zaun said, had he seen anything like it.

Brady Anderson had the best day of any Orioles hitter: he was hit by a pitch, walked, popped out and struck out.

"He had really good control of his off-speed pitches," Anderson said. "Any time he got behind in the count, he throws [an off-speed] pitch for a strike, and it's a quality pitch; he's not just throwing it over. . . . When he can do that, that's tough."

Only twice did the Orioles' offense stir, and both times, left fielder Luis Polonia rammed a dagger through the heart of the rally.

The Orioles had runners at first and second and one out in the third, and Polonia swung at a high 3-2 pitch and rolled a grounder to second baseman Chris Stynes, who started a double play.

Appier drilled Anderson in the back to open the bottom of the sixth, the only time the Orioles had the first hitter in an inning

reach base. Polonia hit the ball harder this time, but right at Stynes, who again started a double play.

Kansas City had posted four runs against Orioles lefty Rick Krivda by then, in typical Royals style. Lots of singles, lots of running. Tom Goodwin walked in the first, stole second and scored on a two-out hit by Joe Vitiello. Goodwin walked again in the fifth, stole second and scored on a hit by Craig Paquette.

The Royals even got a little power, a two-run homer by Sal Fasano -- the Royals' 50th homer of the year, or Brady Anderson times two.

The Orioles finish the year 9-3 against Kansas City, and won't have the Royals to beat up on as they try to catch the Yankees in the final three months of the season.

"You kind of want to see where you're going to be when the break comes up," said Orioles left-hander Jesse Orosco. "At that point, I'd like to be ahead, but we're not. . . .

"If we don't catch the Yankees [by the All-Star break], I'd still like to be in position to catch them."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Texas Rangers

Site: The Ballpark in Arlington

Time: 8: 35 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (9-4, 5.05) vs. Rangers' Bobby Witt (7-5, 5.66)

Pub Date: 6/24/96

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