O's playoff drive shifts to reverse 5-1 gem by Hentgen helps Jays all but doom Orioles' AL East hopes Loss is 3rd in past 4 games Wild-card lead down to 1/2 -game over Seattle

September 21, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

There are plenty of good explanations why the Orioles lost to lowly Toronto, 5-1, last night. Lots.

Blue Jays right-hander Pat Hentgen, a Cy Young candidate, pitched a great game, allowing eight hits in 8 1/3 innings and depressing 47,026 at Camden Yards.

Orioles starter Rick Krivda, trying to come up with an effort worthy of a pennant race after sitting idle for nine days, gave up five runs in the first four innings, some of the damage on cheap hits.

The Orioles' regulars, all older than 30 except for Roberto Alomar, didn't arrive back from New York until 4 a.m. yesterday morning and looked tired.

Good reasons, fair explanations. All irrelevant. The Orioles don't need explanations, they need victories, because they're under assault from the other wild-card contenders. "We just need to get the job done," manager Davey Johnson said.

The Orioles are practically out of the American League East race, trailing the New York Yankees by four games with nine to play. And they are only a half-game ahead of Seattle, two ahead of Chicago and three in front of Boston. The Mariners and Red Sox are hot; the Orioles have lost three of four.

Rocky Coppinger, bothered in the past week by stiffness in his forearm and then a cut on his right index finger, will start tonight for the Orioles against the Blue Jays' Woody Williams.

The Blue Jays and Orioles play six more times in the season's final nine days, but Cito Gaston said before last night's game that there's no extra incentive for him to be manager of the team that knocks the Orioles out of the playoffs. That Gaston is booed every time he makes a pitching change at Camden Yards, fallout from his decision not to use Mike Mussina in the 1993 All-Star Game -- nope, doesn't mean a thing.

No, when Blue Jays center fielder Otis Nixon tried a squeeze bunt in the top of the fourth inning, with Toronto leading 5-0, it just seemed like the right time. Never mind that Gaston said it was the first squeeze he ever has called for from the bench. The first ever. Coincidence. Really.

If, deep in his heart, Gaston possesses a secret joy in beating the Orioles, he must have loved the first four innings last night.

The Blue Jays came to Camden Yards having lost three straight games, and having gone three games since their last home run.

Jacob Brumfield pulled a double down the left-field line with one out in the first, and Juan Samuel singled to right; when Bobby Bonilla reached down to pick up the ball, he fumbled it, and

Brumfield scored. The back-to-back hits were Toronto's first in 31 innings.

Ed Sprague singled to lead off the second, and with two outs, Krivda walked Alex Gonzalez, hitless in four games, on a 3-1 changeup that later left Krivda wondering: "Why? Why a changeup?"

Tomas Perez beat out an infield single that loaded the bases, and Nixon, hitting right-handed, slammed a single to right, scoring two runs. A body blow to the Orioles' playoff hopes, with Hentgen pitching against them.

The Jays scored another run in the third, another in the fourth. "I didn't do my job today," said Krivda. "You can't give a guy like that [Hentgen] five runs to work with and expect to win."

Krivda said he and catcher Chris Hoiles struggled together in the early innings. "Chris and I weren't on the same page as far as signals," said Krivda. "We started throwing in more, and had them going in and out, but it may have been too little, too late."

The Yankees fell behind Hentgen last Saturday, and they came back and won. In fairness, New York came back from one run down, whereas the Orioles faced a five-run deficit. "You cannot get too far back when you got a guy like that on the mound," said Alomar.

No. Since the All-Star break, Hentgen is 10-4 with a 2.76 ERA. In the run-saturated American League this year, when guys can hit 30 homers and have an off-year, that's unbelievable, and Hentgen kept the Orioles' hitters on the defensive all night.

The Orioles mounted a threat in the fourth, loading the bases on an infield single, an error and a walk. But with two outs, Brady Anderson -- hitting .163 (7-for-43) with runners in scoring position and two outs this year -- fell behind no balls and two strikes, then took a breaking ball for strike three. A beautiful pitch, by a great pitcher.

Hentgen started the ninth inning, the 13th straight time he pitched into the eighth inning or later. Eddie Murray singled, and after B. J. Surhoff lined out to left, Hentgen walked Hoiles. Dane Johnson relieved, struck out Anderson, the second out of the inning, but walked Alomar and Todd Zeile, forcing in the Orioles' first and only run.

Left-hander Paul Spoljaric replaced Johnson, to pitch to the left-handed hitting Rafael Palmeiro. A home run from Palmeiro, with 37 already, would have tied the game. But Spoljaric struck out Palmeiro on four pitches, for his first save of the year, throwing nasty stuff.

Irrelevant. The Orioles need victories.

Bobby Bonilla dressed slowly after the game, looking a little worn down. But he would not entertain the excuse of being tired. "That's not even appropriate," he said, "because Hentgen pitched his butt off. Hentgen didn't give the bats a chance to wake up."

Hentgen could pitch against the Orioles on the final day of the regular season, if Gaston chooses to throw him on three days' rest. Gaston said last week that he's not sure if that's the best thing for Hentgen's arm.

Hentgen threw 137 pitches last night. Just an educated guess, but if the Orioles are playing for a postseason berth, look for Hentgen to pitch a week from tomorrow.

Pub Date: 9/21/96

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