Orioles sent packing by A's early KO 7 runs in 1-plus innings chase starter Wells in 9-6 series finale

Chance to gain ground lost

Johnson opts to judge Oakland trip as a plus

August 19, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Orioles had a choice. They could look at yesterday's 9-6 defeat as an opportunity lost, or they could look on the bright side. No great harm done.

The Oakland Athletics pounded David Wells for seven runs before there was an out in the bottom of the second inning, forcing the Orioles to settle for three victories in the five-game series at the Oakland Coliseum. Not bad in total, but not very satisfying after winning the first three games.

The silver lining was in New York, where the Yankees lost again to the Seattle Mariners, and in Milwaukee, where the Chicago White Sox lost again. The Orioles remained 5 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East and two games behind the White Sox in the wild-card chase, with a long homestand set to begin tomorrow night at Camden Yards.

Manager Davey Johnson chose to consider the glass half full, deflecting the suggestion that the club missed a golden opportunity to pick up more ground on the Yankees and White Sox.

"We picked up plenty of ground on this trip," he said, "but I don't worry about that. I just worry about our games. I'm not into scoreboard watching. We've been playing awfully well, even though our road schedule has been horrendous. We're going home now and I think we're through the worst of it."

Who could figure Wells, who has been throwing the ball well and had a chance to get back to .500 with a fourth consecutive victory, wouldn't survive the second inning? He gave up four straight hits to open the A's first, then got a double-play grounder and gave up three more hits, one of them Terry Steinbach's 30th home run.

It got worse in the second, when he opened the inning with a walk and then hit Jason Giambi with a pitch before Scott Brosius hit his 20th homer of the year to give the A's a seven-run lead. And that pretty much was that.

"David just didn't have good stuff today," Johnson said. "He has had a stiff back and that might have been the reason that he was getting a lot of his pitches up."

Turns out that Wells woke up with a painful lower back Thursday, saying he could barely walk. Orioles trainers Richie Bancells and Jamie Reed worked on him for three days to enable him to start yesterday's game. But he refused to use his back as an excuse for the frustrating performance.

"They did a great job to get me out there," Wells said. "Maybe it was in the back of my mind and that kept me from following all the way through, but I don't think that was the reason. You still have to go out and pitch. I was just [lousy]. I've been pitching great lately. I guess you're entitled to a bad game once in a while."

The rest of the day was spent sorting out the long and short of it -- the yin and the Esteban Yan. Yan and fellow rookie Nerio Rodriguez gave up just two runs (one earned) over seven innings of mop-up relief, which had to put a smile on Johnson's face. But catcher Chris Hoiles had to leave the game with a strained right groin muscle, which didn't go over quite so well.

The Orioles tied a major-league record when B. J. Surhoff homered to become the sixth Baltimore player with 20 or more home runs this year, but the A's hit three home runs, including the 43rd of the year by major-league leader Mark McGwire. It was McGwire's 145th career home run at the Oakland Coliseum, breaking the stadium record held by A's great Reggie Jackson.

"I think that's just a sign that I've been around here a long time," McGwire, 32, said afterward. "I guess I'm just happy that someday I'll be able to say I did that."

McGwire's home run didn't appear to be very important at the time. It gave the A's an eight-run lead and wouldn't seem significant -- other than as part of his outstanding individual season -- until the Orioles threatened to come back in the ninth inning. They scored three times on a bases-loaded double by Brady Anderson to draw within three runs, but because of McGwire's homer and a sixth-inning RBI single by Steinbach -- and a nice catch by Ernie Young to deny Rafael Palmeiro of a two-run double in the seventh -- the Orioles never got the tying run to the plate.

"We battled back," Johnson said, "and the kids got an opportunity to pitch and they did good. You hate to lose, but it's nice to see them get a chance to get comfortable out there."

Yan worked five innings and gave up two runs (one earned) on five hits and two walks. Rodriguez, who was with Single-A Frederick at the start of the month, finished up with two scoreless innings, surrendering two hits and a walk. Rookie catcher Cesar Devarez also had a productive day, catching well and getting a pair of hits -- his first at the major-league level.

Pub Date: 8/19/96

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