O's let Wells down again Twins score 2 in 8th, win on wild pitch, 3-2

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

In yesterday's editions, a quote by Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Dan Naulty ran incorrectly. It should have read: "We're obviously not the most talented group of guys. None of us are making millions. Well, a couple of us. If you compare us to Cleveland and Baltimore, we shouldn't even compare. On paper we shouldn't win any games."

The Sun regrets the error.

This is not a slump. This is not a trend. This is a subpar team and has been for more than three months now.

This is the Orioles, who lost, 3-2, to the Minnesota Twins before 42,006 at Camden Yards last night. On April 17 they had the best record in the majors, at 11-2. Today they are 50-48, with fewer victories than the Oakland Athletics, just three more than the Twins without Kirby Puckett. The Orioles are just about neck-and-neck with the Milwaukee Brewers.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

This is the Orioles, a mediocre team for three months, losing the way mediocre teams lose. When they score lots of runs, they give up lots of runs. When they get great pitching -- and David Wells pitched a great game last night -- they don't score. When they need to make a big pitch, they don't do it: Paul Molitor scored the winning run on a wild pitch by Alan Mills.

They have more big names having big years than any team in baseball -- Roberto Alomar, Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro and Brady Anderson. Yet they have more losses than the Montreal Expos.

Except for the jolt of adrenalin Eddie Murray provides, the Orioles have given no indication they are going to change direction. They lost four straight to the Yankees, they lost two of four to Boston, they've lost two straight to the Twins.

Minnesota reliever Dan Naulty said, "We're obviously not the most talented group of guys. None of us are making millions. Well, a couple of us. If you compare us to Cleveland and Baltimore, we shouldn't even compare. On paper, we shouldn't win any games."

They are winning. The Orioles are losing.

"I'm at a loss for words," said Wells, who is the poster-man-child of the hard-luck loss.

Johnson said, "If you take a one-run lead into the eighth inning, you expect to win."

The Orioles led 2-1 after seven innings. Wells had pitched exceptionally, pumping inside fastballs to Twins catcher Matt Walbeck to get out of a seventh-inning jam. Minnesota right-hander Rick Aguilera had thrown well, too, but Palmeiro hit his 25th homer of the season, a bases-empty shot, in the bottom of the sixth to put the Orioles ahead.

It could have been a two-run lead. Alomar led off the bottom of the sixth by singling to right. Ripken drove a fly to center, near the warning track, and Alomar, trying to get into scoring position, raced back to first base, tagged and tried to reach second. He was cut down, however, when Minnesota center fielder Rich Becker made a perfect throw to second.

Palmeiro then connected on a off-speed pitch by Aguilera and punched a high fly to right. As it rose off his bat, there was almost no reaction from the Camden Yards crowd.

Surprise. Palmeiro's lazy fly ball carried over the scoreboard by a foot or two or three, and the fans got loud.

Wells (6-10) came out for the top of the eighth inning having thrown 96 pitches. Johnson waited until Wells began to pitch to leadoff hitter Chuck Knoblauch before getting Mills and Jesse Orosco up in the bullpen, knowing how much Wells hates to see relievers throwing at the start of an inning. That portends a lack of confidence, a sense of impending doom.

Knoblauch flied out, but Pat Meares singled on the first pitch, bringing Molitor to the plate. Johnson said later he would've liked to have had Mills ready to pitch to Molitor. But Mills wasn't quite warmed up.

Molitor, 13-for-30 in his career against Wells, said later that he wanted to drive a single through the first-base hole and create a first-and-third situation. He was looking to slam a pitch to the right side. When Wells threw a high sinker, Molitor did rip it to right -- to the right-center field gap.

Meares got a great jump off first and sped around the bases. Orioles center fielder Anderson cut off the ball with a slide and popped up to throw to cut-off man Alomar, who caught Anderson's relay and spun and threw home.

Alomar's relay actually beat Meares to the area around home NTC plate. Right out of his hand, though, the throw curled left to right, slightly up the first-base side, and catcher Chris Hoiles had no chance to make the tag.

"Maybe I get him with a perfect throw," Alomar said.

Twins 2, Orioles 2, and just as important, Molitor had taken third ++ on the throw home.

Wells, backing up home, stomped back to the mound, and when he turned around he saw Johnson emerging from the dugout -- the march of doom -- and he turned and swore for the good people in Frederick and other parts in Western Maryland. When Johnson reached for the ball, Wells rammed it into his hand.

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