Wells finishes off Yankees, 4-hitter, 9-1 Complete game latest

encouraging sign from revived O's starters

Anderson hits 3-run HR

Lefty finds focus, yields 13 runs in 31 innings

July 01, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- David Wells' bosses talked in the dugout about relieving him for the ninth inning yesterday. The Orioles led 9-1 and had the game well in hand, Wells' pitch count was climbing, and this was a good opportunity to bring in a reliever for work.

But manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Pat Dobson thought better of it. "I wouldn't have wanted to [relieve] him, even if he had 150 pitches," Johnson said. "I probably would've gotten a head-butt."

This is how far the Orioles starters have come: Three weeks ago Johnson and Dobson were having a hard time getting five innings out of their starters. Now they have to fight to get them out of the game: Wells pitched the ninth and closed out the New York Yankees, giving the Orioles a split in the four-game series.

Brady Anderson hit his major-league-leading 27th homer for the Orioles, who begin a three-game series in Toronto today 4 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the American League East.

The Orioles had four complete games in the first 62 games. But in the past 17, they've had five, including Wells' effort yesterday. The starting pitching, a root problem in the Orioles' two-month swoon, is showing signs of coming around.

The starters have a 4.08 ERA over their past 14 games, which in a normal season wouldn't sound like much. But in a year when the Chicago White Sox are leading the league with a 4.29 ERA and when scrawny middle infielders are bashing opposite-field homers, it's a big deal.

Johnson watched his starters give up almost seven runs a game over a six-week period, and acknowledged yesterday that he wondered if they would improve. "I've never been associated with a [pitching] staff that went through a period like that," he said.

But now the manager says the Orioles' starting pitching is good enough to win the division.

"I think it's coming together well," Johnson said. "Since [Rocky] Coppinger came up, and [Jimmy] Haynes went to the bullpen, all the guys have pitched decent ballgames.

"You've got to have that. We didn't have that for a month and a half, and we were lucky we didn't get blown out [of the standings]."

Mike Mussina has pitched satisfactorily in his past four outings, after a stretch of five abominable starts. Scott Erickson has three straight complete games. Coppinger has been competitive, and has impressed with his aggressiveness, and Rick Krivda has pitched OK.

"It seems like when we've had to make a big pitch," Dobson said, "we've been able to do that. We've been staying away from the big inning, and that had been a problem."

But Wells' midseason evolution has been the most pronounced. Whereas in late May and early June he pitched indifferently, admitting that he lost his concentration and all but gave up in a couple of starts, he is competing now, and may be in better condition to compete. The low point of Wells' year was in Detroit on June 10, when the Tigers raked him for seven runs in 5 1/3 innings.

The next day, Dobson assumed control of the pitchers' running program, ensuring that Wells would be diligent about his conditioning, and Wells has allowed 13 runs in 31 innings since then.

"He's doing a better job of concentrating from pitch to pitch," Dobson said, "staying focused, not worrying about whatever -- not getting upset about an umpire, things like that. And as a result, he's been a lot better overall."

Wells, who has decided not to talk to the media, is almost always good in Yankee Stadium, a spacious haven for left-handed, fly ball pitchers like him. He began yesterday's game with an 8-1 career mark in Yankee Stadium, and was never in danger of losing.

The Yankees had just two hits over the first six innings, with only one runner in scoring position. Bernie Williams homered in the seventh to break up Wells' shutout, but Wells gave up a total of four hits and one walk before Tino Martinez grounded into a double play to end the game.

"I wouldn't have wanted to be the ones trying to hit him today," Johnson said.

The Orioles had the easier task of taking on Yankees rookie Ramiro Mendoza, a soft-throwing right-hander. The Orioles hit Mendoza and a couple of relievers hard, and their offense benefited directly from the wet conditions and the heavy mist that fell all day.

Cal Ripken scored the first run on a double by Rafael Palmeiro, after both left fielder Gerald Williams and shortstop Derek Jeter slipped making relay throws home. First base umpire Mike Reilly blew a call with two outs in the third, and then B. J. Surhoff knocked a slow roller through the middle of the infield -- past the bogged-down middle infielders. Outfielders had a hard time judging balls in the outfield; Yankees right fielder Paul O'Neill misjudged a line drive off the bat of Luis Polonia, costing New York three runs.

Anderson's three-run homer in the sixth -- his first and only hit of the Yankees series -- gave the Orioles a 9-0 lead, and Wells could finish with peace of mind.

All the discussion over leadership, Johnson said, the questions about the team's intensity and the lineup, all will be smoothed over so long as the Orioles get some quality pitching. Yesterday, they got that from Wells.

Orioles today

Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays

Site: SkyDome, Toronto

Time: 1: 05 p.m.

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Rocky Coppinger (2-0, 5.12) vs. Blue Jays' Pat Hentgen (7-5, 3.89)

Pub Date: 7/01/96

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