Wild-card lead flutters off Angels knuckleballer shuts down Orioles for 13-0 victory

Chicago leads by half-game

O's go homerless in California series

August 26, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

If the season had ended after the Orioles' thrilling 5-4 win over California on Saturday night, the Orioles would be in the playoffs as the wild-card team, battling the Cleveland Indians.

If the season had ended after the Orioles' 13-0 loss to the Angels yesterday, they would be home vacuuming potato chip crumbs from underneath couch cushions and doing other off-season chores.

The Orioles moved into the lead for the wild-card spot Saturday, and moved out yesterday, falling a half-game behind the Chicago White Sox, who beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 10-9.

Angels right-hander Dennis Springer, who was on the verge of being released out of baseball a couple of years ago when he began throwing a knuckleball full time, stymied the Orioles with his flutterball, holding them to five hits. The Orioles didn't hit a homer in the series, the first time that has happened all year.

More bad news: The Boston Red Sox are suddenly alive and well and within three games of the Orioles, after they beat the Seattle Mariners, 8-5, yesterday.

Somebody asked Orioles manager Davey Johnson before yesterday's game whether the crazy game Saturday was tough on his heart, which had been beating irregularly Thursday and forced him into the hospital for most of that day.

No, Johnson replied, those close games don't bother him. "It's those 10-0 games that are tough," he said, "because you sit there and you can't do anything."

Pure anxiety, with no hope of the situation getting better. The Orioles suffered the fourth-worst shutout loss in club history, with only one runner reaching scoring position. Third base coach Sam Perlozzo was all dressed up with nowhere to go and nothing to do. "I think I had a sign on three balls and no strikes once, and on three and one," Perlozzo said. "That was about it."

Johnson told reporters, "You're all used to covering football -- we didn't have much time of possession."

Orioles starter Scott Erickson usually handles California the same way Notre Dame treats Vanderbilt in football -- no chance, with 11 victories in 12 career starts against California. He began the game with great stuff -- a nasty sinking fastball, good control -- and retired the first four hitters he faced without any trouble.

J. T. Snow doubled with one out in the second, and with two outs, shortstop Gary DiSarcina tried to check his swing, made contact, and the ball blooped over second, scoring a run. Same thing happened in the third inning: Two outs, runner on second, and Tim Salmon hit a broken-bat blooper for an RBI. "There was some luck involved," Salmon said.

Bad luck, something that has unnerved Erickson this year and seemed to again yesterday. Leading 2-0, the Angels loaded the bases with one out in the fourthand third baseman George Arias hit a bouncer just to Erickson's right. The pitcher rushed to barehand the grounder, intending to flip the ball to catcher Chris Hoiles and maybe start a double play.

But the ball skipped awkwardly and went off Erickson's hand, a run scored and everybody was safe. Erickson fell behind the next hitter, Randy Velarde, two balls and no strikes, elevated a fastball and Velarde crushed it. Center fielder Brady Anderson took a couple of steps before realizing he had no chance of intercepting the ball before it crashed into the center-field stands.

When Johnson went to the mound to relieve Erickson, he told the right-hander he "pitched better than [his pitching] line showed.

"Scotty had a chance to get out of trouble, he missed the ground ball and that's the ballgame."

The game got so out of hand that the biggest cheers from the crowd of 47,239 were for ballgirl Stacy Thiel, who deftly handled a sharply hit grounder in the midst of the onslaught. Fans roared, many obviously intending to pan the Orioles in a backhanded way.

They had no reason to cheer the offense, completely shut down by Springer, a 31-year-old knuckleballer who became the latest in a long line of soft-ballers who have given the Orioles trouble this year. Jamie Moyer has beaten them three times, The Boston Red Sox's Tim Wakefield stifled them, as did the Minnesota Twins' Rich Robertson.

"Those are always the tough guys to face," said Bobby Bonilla. "The ball never seems like it gets there."

Springer pitched the first complete game of his career, the first shutout. "I wouldn't necessarily consider him a true knuckleballer," Bonilla said, "because he throws a lot more fastballs than a true knuckleballer. He throws more than [the Milwaukee Brewers' Steve] Sparks or Wakefield. He started off the game throwing four in a row to Robbie [Alomar]."

It has been this way all year with the mysterious Orioles, a team of the highest highs and lowest lows, and it probably will stay this way through the final five weeks, as they dodge and parry with the Chicago White Sox, Seattle Mariners and Red Sox.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Oakland Athletics

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Athletics' John Wasdin (7-6, 6.32) vs. O's Rocky Coppinger (7-5, 5.25)

Tickets: 5,000 remaining

Tracking Murray

The Orioles' Eddie Murray is two home runs short of 500 for his career. Here's a look at his at-bats yesterday:

3rd inning: vs. Springer. Flied out to left.

5th inning: vs. Springer. Grounded into double play, second to shortstop to first.

8th inning: vs. Springer. Walked.

Pub Date: 8/26/96

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