Swept Johnson unloads on O's After Twins' 11-4 rout, sinking team gets earful

July 25, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

The dead bolt on the Orioles' clubhouse door turned after Minnesota completed a three-game sweep last night, and whatever manager Davey Johnson said to his players over the next 10 minutes or so, it was loud and it wasn't complimentary.

It was the first time this year, reliever Jesse Orosco noted, that Johnson has chewed out the Orioles. The only comment Johnson would give about the meeting was that "I got a few things off my chest."

That was all he really needed to say. If you want to know why Johnson is angry, consider that the Orioles have lost 11 of their past 15 games, and all but four of those games have been at home. They've fallen to 50-49, the first time since May 9 the Orioles have been one game over .500.

The Twins won, 11-4, last night, and in the three-game series Minnesota trailed in two of 27 innings. Yes, the Twins. It was Minnesota's first three-game sweep at Baltimore since 1983.

The Orioles are right in the wild-card race.

Yeah, and you may have just won $10 million from Ed McMahon.

The immediate future of the Orioles is becoming clearer by the day. Eddie Murray will hit homers in pursuit of No. 500 -- he hit No. 493 last night, small cheer for 46,181 at Camden Yards -- but this masks a bigger picture. The Orioles are collapsing.

The defending AL champion Cleveland Indians begin a four-game series at Camden Yards tonight, creating the distinct possibility the Orioles will fall below .500 for the first time all year.

"We're not doing the little things that good teams do, and we're capable of doing it," Johnson said. "We're just not getting it done. We better start."

Second baseman Roberto Alomar said: "We don't have the same fire, or the same look in the eye. We have to go out there and do the little things we have to do. . . . We have a good ballclub here, maybe the best I've ever been on. We have to help each other out.

"I agree with everything [Johnson] said. Davey is a great manager, and sometimes you need these kind of things to happen to turn it around."

The Orioles are four games behind the Chicago White Sox in the wild-card race, so technically they are in the running. Should the Orioles win five of seven games, they could be right behind the White Sox, and this possibility may be what prevents general manager Pat Gillick from dealing off veterans such as Orosco, Bobby Bonilla and David Wells.

But Gillick and owner Peter Angelos are like gamblers who've just suffered through a long night at a Las Vegas casino. Do they cut their losses and go home and save their money for the future, or do they stay at the craps table? It's a tough call when you've been rolling nothing but snake eyes for three months.

The way the Orioles are playing, they seem incapable of winning an intrasquad game. One mistake compounded by another, mixed in with some bad luck, and suddenly they have a bitter mash of baseball. Playing the Twins doesn't help, because Minnesota always takes the extra base and puts pressure on the defense, the type of baseball the Orioles haven't consistently played since April.

Frankie Rodriguez no-hit the Orioles through the first three innings, and starter Scott Erickson allowed two hits and no runs. But Erickson walked Paul Molitor leading off the fourth inning, on four pitches, and Murphy's Law applied to the Orioles for the rest of the inning. What could go wrong did go wrong.

Minnesota scored five runs that inning, on bloopers and loopers and some terrific base running, and a no-ball, two-strike double by Dave Hollins. Good thing fans find the rest of Camden Yards scenic.

"Everybody's kind of in awe of what's going on," Erickson said later. "We should be playing better than we are."

Murray, hitting left-handed against Rodriguez, slammed a homer into the right-center-field bleachers leading off the bottom of the fifth, tying Lou Gehrig for 15th on the career list.

More snake eyes: The Twins immediately came back to bury Erickson with three runs in the sixth inning. Erickson's former teammates ultimately accumulated 10 hits, two walks and eight runs against him.

Over his past two starts, Erickson has given up 20 hits, 14 runs and four walks in 9 2/3 innings. Plus, he has had only two strikeouts. Minnesota capped off the embarrassment by scoring three runs in the eighth off reliever Keith Shepherd.

For a time, the Orioles couldn't beat teams with records over .500. Now, they can't beat anybody.

Orosco said: "Two months ago, we said it was no big deal. One month ago, we said it was no big deal. Today, it's a problem. It's going to be tough now."

Johnson, Orosco said, "had the right to say what he needed to say and get it out of his system. We need to look at ourselves and figure out why we play like this. The toughest thing is there is so much talent on this team. It's a good blend of guys. To be .500 at this point . . .

"This hurts. This really hurts."

Since April 17, the Orioles are 39-47, and only two AL teams have worse records since then -- the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers.

It would be hard to blame Angelos and Gillick if they wanted to cash out.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Cleveland Indians

Site: Oriole Park

Time: 7: 35 TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Indians' Charles Nagy (11-3, 3.51) vs. Orioles' Rocky Coppinger (5-1, 4.85)

Tickets: Sold out

Pub Date: 7/25/96

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