Team laments Texas loss as 'toughest of the season' 6-5 defeat was marked by 8th-inning collapse

June 28, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Bobby Bonilla lay on his back on the floor in front of his Yankee Stadium locker yesterday, his head propped up by a towel, trying to simultaneously rest, forget the last 24 hours and focus on the big four-game series that began last night.

But he couldn't forget, none of it. The 6-5 loss to Texas on Wednesday, the long night of travel afterward. The recovery from the overnight trip and the prospect of facing the well-rested Yankees would have been much easier to handle if the Orioles had just won the game.

"It was a game we needed to win," said Bonilla. "We battled a pitcher with great stuff [Ken Hill], and we got a lead. We really needed that one. That was the toughest loss of the season, because it came at the start of an important road trip."

It was their game to win. Rafael Palmeiro hit a three-run homer in the first inning to give the Orioles a lead, and Rocky Coppinger pitched well for five innings, holding the Rangers to one run. Mark Smith hit a two-strike, two-run single off Hill in the top of the sixth, extending the Orioles' lead to 5-1.

But after Rene Gonzales doubled to lead off the bottom of the sixth, Orioles manager Davey Johnson saw Coppinger flexing his knee, and ran to the mound with trainer Richie Bancells. Coppinger told them then that he had twisted his knee slightly in the early innings, and that was all Johnson had to hear. He called for Arthur Rhodes to relieve, and Coppinger, livid, stormed off the mound, swearing as he departed.

"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."

The Orioles' advantage disintegrated. Rhodes walked three and forced across a run, and the Rangers scored another run in the seventh, making it 5-3.

The Orioles had failed to add to their lead. The leadoff man reached base in the third and fourth innings, and the Orioles could not score. The eighth inning began with Cal Ripken being hit by a pitch and B. J. Surhoff walking, but Chris Hoiles flied out, Smith popped out and Brady Anderson grounded out.

Roger McDowell took the mound for the Orioles in the bottom of the eighth, and Mark McLemore singled and Kevin Elster walked. Nobody out. Jesse Orosco took over, and when Darryl Hamilton bunted toward third, Orosco made a sensational play, throwing out Hamilton at first.

Johnson ordered an intentional walk of the right-handed hitting Ivan Rodriguez, bucking conventional wisdom by putting the potential lead run on base. The move looked like a good one when Will Clark flied to short center, the second out, and the runners had to hold.

Johnson called on right-hander Alan Mills to pitch to the right-handed hitting Juan Gonzalez; Mills had struck out Gonzalez the night before. Johnson said afterward that he wanted Mills, pitching on consecutive nights for the first time all year, to face one hitter.

On Tuesday, Mills' first pitch to Gonzalez had been a slider, which was what Gonzalez looked for Wednesday, and what he got. Mills threw a high slider, and Gonzalez bashed it to right-center. Off the bat, Bonilla said, "I thought I had a chance to catch it."

But while Bonilla cut across the outfield in a straight line, the ball carried deep, and all three runners scored.

Afterward, most of the Orioles ate and dressed in silence, preparing for the trip to New York that wouldn't end until 6 a.m. yesterday.

Pub Date: 6/28/96

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