Orioles are bottoming out Yankees' 7-8-9 hitters show what O's lack

July 13, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

A major difference in the respective lineups of the Orioles and New York Yankees turned out to be the difference between winning and losing Thursday night.

The bottom three hitters in the New York lineup -- Mariano Duncan, Joe Girardi and Derek Jeter -- combined for four hits, three runs, three RBIs and a few sacrifice bunts. Jeter hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning, breaking a 2-2 tie in the first game of the four-game series. Game 2 was rained out last night; a doubleheader will be played today starting at 4: 05 p.m.

The bottom three hitters in the Orioles' lineup -- Mike Devereaux, Chris Hoiles and Mark Smith (and Luis Polonia, as a pinch hitter in the ninth) -- went 1-for-10 with an RBI, Devereaux driving in a run with a sacrifice fly.

"It's great if you can get your No. 8 and No. 9 guys to hit [like] No. 1 and No. 2 [hitters]," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson. "I think our guys are capable of doing it. They just haven't done it yet."

The problems at the bottom of the order have dogged the Orioles for nearly a month now. Over the last 20 games, the Orioles' No. 7 hitters are batting a combined .209 with one homer and eight RBIs, the No. 8 hitters are hitting .203 with five homers and nine RBIs, and the No. 9 hitters are batting .217 with two homers and four RBIs.

Translated: If Brady Anderson, Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro or one of the other hitters at the top of the Orioles' lineup don't produce runs, runs aren't being produced. This inadequacy is another reason why the Orioles haven't won without hitting a homer since May 26; they're not putting together the three- or four-hit rallies.

"I don't look at that as the [main] problem," said Devereaux. "You want the whole order to do well. When 7, 8 and 9 are hitting .200, that's not great. Yes, it's a problem, but it's not the main problem. . . . There are so many stats that it's almost like people are looking for something to be wrong."

The Orioles' troubles at the bottom of the order is evidence to a larger discrepancy between the two teams. The Yankees are getting consistent contributions from all 25 players on their roster, and the Orioles are not.

At the end of the New York roster are Mike Aldrete, a left-handed pinch-hitting specialist with a .243 average, but a .514 slugging percentage; infielder Andy Fox, who has nine stolen bases and has gotten a couple of big hits; infielder Matt Howard, who stole home and hit a homer; and catcher Jim Leyritz, valuable as a backup catcher and part-time designated hitter. They all have distinct roles with the Yankees.

Johnson, on the other hand, has two players he never uses, backup shortstop Manny Alexander and left-handed pitcher Kent Mercker, neither of whom has played in the field since June 18.

Johnson would prefer to use Smith in the outfield, but has started him at designated hitter because of Bobby Bonilla's dislike for the position.

When the Orioles had a runner at first with two outs in the ninth inning Thursday, right-hander John Wetteland was pitching for the Yankees and Johnson wanted a left-handed hitter at the plate -- preferably someone with some power. His only recourse was Luis Polonia, hitting .233 and a total of 19 major-league homers in 10 seasons.

"I've always said the key to winning a championship is your bench and your bullpen," said Johnson. "That's really more apropos to the National League, but . . ."

But it's important in the AL, too. The Yankees, who have played through injuries all season, are an example of this.

"We don't have the right-handed [hitter] we'd like against left-handed pitching. But I still like our ballclub," Johnson said. "For us to be a championship club, I'd like to make a few changes. But whether we do it or not, I don't know."

The Orioles are looking for ways to make changes, deepen their lineup. Searching for that right-handed hitter, the Orioles have, according to baseball sources, talked to the San Francisco Giants about catcher Kirt Manwaring, to the Kansas City Royals about catcher Mike Macfarlane, to the Chicago Cubs about center fielder Brian McRae, to the Boston Red Sox about catcher Mike Stanley, to the San Francisco Giants about Mark Carreon before he was traded to Cleveland, to the Toronto Blue Jays about outfielder Joe Carter.

Time is running out.

Pub Date: 7/13/96

Orioles today

Opponent: New York Yankees

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 4: 05, doubleheader

TV/Radio: First game: HTS. Second game: Chs. 13, 50/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: First game: Yankees' Kenny Rogers (6-4, 4.25) vs. Orioles' David Wells (5-8, 5.28). Second game: Yankees' Dwight Gooden vs. Orioles' Rocky Coppinger (4-0, 4.65)

/# Tickets: Less than 1,000 remain

Ticket update

Season-ticket holders will get a full refund for last night's rainout. Individual and mini-plan holders can exchange the tickets for a date below:

Date(s) .......... Opponent

July 16 .......... Toronto

July 24 .......... Minnesota

Aug. 12 .......... Milwaukee

Aug. 14 .......... Milwaukee

Aug. 26, 27, 28 .. Oakland

Sept. 11 ......... Chicago

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