Rangers rally in 8th, dump Orioles, 6-5 Gonzalez's double off Mills with 2 out drives in decisive 3

O's fall 4 1/2 behind Yankees

Coppinger goes 5-plus before twisting knee

June 27, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas -- They say everything is big in Texas. That includes big losses and big blown leads, Orioles style.

The Orioles, four outs away from beating the Rangers last night and taking two games in the three-game series, gave up three runs in the bottom of the eighth and lost, 6-5. Juan Gonzalez's three-run double off Alan Mills with two outs turned a two-run deficit into victory.

"That was a tough one," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson, facing a 4 1/2 -game deficit in the American League East standings, a nightlong flight to New York and a four-game series against the first-place Yankees that will begin tonight.

Orioles rookie Rocky Coppinger left after five-plus innings with a twisted knee and a 5-1 lead, but the bullpen proceeded to give away runs. Arthur Rhodes walked home a run in the sixth, and the Rangers scored another run in the seventh, when Mickey Tettleton singled home Gonzalez.

Roger McDowell carried a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth, but Mark McLemore singled and Kevin Elster walked to start the game-winning rally. Jesse Orosco relieved McDowell in a bunt situation, Darryl Hamilton at the plate.

Hamilton bunted down the third-base line, and Orosco rushed off the mound, gloved the ball and looked to throw to third -- but B. J. Surhoff was in on the grass. Orosco turned, and, as he fell toward the dugout, he made an exceptional, twisting throw to first for the first out. McLemore and Elster advanced to second and third, respectively.

Then Johnson ordered an unusual move, an intentional walk of Ivan Rodriguez, the potential lead run, to face the left-handed-hitting Will Clark with one out. For a moment, the strategy worked, as Clark hit a fly to short center. Two outs.

Johnson called for right-hander Alan Mills to relieve Orosco, and Gonzalez ripped Mills' first pitch, a high slider, to right-center. The ball carried over and past the outstretched glove of right fielder Bobby Bonilla, and all three runners scored.

"I had a game plan, but it didn't work out," Mills said. "The ball was up in the [strike] zone. I could have hit it."

Orosco, who suffered the loss because of his intentional walk, said Johnson's decision to put Rodriguez on base was the right one. "Every manager would've done the same thing," he said. "They got a key hit at the key time."

Coppinger left the game in the sixth under much protest. Through five innings, he had held the Rangers to five hits, walking two and striking out three, but his pitch count was nearing 90.

Rene Gonzales, leading off the sixth, lined a ball into right field, past Bonilla and to the wall, a double. As Gonzales cruised into second base, Johnson and trainer Richie Bancells rushed out of the dugout, to the mound.

They had a short conversation with Coppinger, who had been flexing his knee since twisting it slightly on a play in the first inning. But Coppinger, pitching in front of family and friends and pitching well, had no desire to leave.

Intending to use Coppinger for no more than 100 pitches, Johnson lifted the right-hander, and Coppinger was furious.

He bent over on the mound, grabbing and flinging some dirt and flipping the ball up in the air a couple of times before giving it to Johnson. Coppinger waited until he was several steps off the mound before he swore aloud, and when he returned to the dugout, he was obviously agitated, finally leaving for the training room with Bancells, cussing some more. As he passed Johnson in the corner of the dugout, he didn't say a word.

Coppinger sat in the clubhouse and watched the Orioles' bullpen blow the lead, and the thought went through his mind over and over: He felt fine, he felt good enough to continue and finish what he had started.

"I felt like I should've stayed in," Coppinger said. "But he's the manager. You've got to respect what he does and live with it."

Coppinger fought to win when he was on the mound and after he left, the sort of competitiveness the Orioles have lacked at times. The Orioles' minor-league managers and coaches raved about Coppinger's makeup as much as they do about his hard sinker, and both were on display last night.

Protecting a 3-1 lead in the third inning, Coppinger used his vicious slider to strike out Dean Palmer, and again to strike out McLemore in the fourth. Elster doubled in the fourth with two outs, and Coppinger escaped the jam when Hamilton flied to left.

Coppinger stalked off the mound, turned and yelled to catcher Chris Hoiles, angry that he had allowed Elster's double on a poorly thrown fastball with a 1-2 count. A fire burns there.

It burns within Rafael Palmeiro every time he returns to Texas, where he once played. He was responsible for the Orioles' first three runs, coming in the first inning. After Brady Anderson walked and Luis Polonia was hit by a pitch. Palmeiro bashed a drive into the lower deck in right field, his 18th homer of the year and his fourth in 40 at-bats at The Ballpark in Arlington.

Mark Smith singled home two runs with two out in the sixth, dumping a single into center field on an 0-2 pitch from Texas starter Ken Hill. At the time, it seemed like the back-breaker, the type of hit that builds momentum for a team about to begin a critical series against its main rival.

Instead, Smith's hit merely set stage for disaster. A Texas-sized disaster. Orioles style.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: New York Yankees

Site: Yankee Stadium

Time: 7: 35

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Scott Erickson (4-5, 5.12) vs. Yankees' Kenny Rogers (5-3, 4.27)

Pub Date: 6/27/96

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