Sox deal O's one Mo loss Vaughn takes Wells deep 3 times to power Boston to 13-8 win

Wild-card lead narrows

Starters, bullpen in weary spiral

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

BOSTON -- In late July, Orioles manager Davey Johnson went to the whip with his starting pitchers, going to a four-man rotation, and the strategy helped propel the team back into the playoff race.

But with less than a week to play and the Orioles clinging to a stitch-thin lead in the wild-card race, Johnson's pitching staff appears exhausted.

David Wells, who pitched six times on three days' rest in August and September, allowed nine runs in 5 1/3 innings in a 13-8 loss to Boston last night, his worst outing of the year. Wells allowed one homer to a left-handed hitter before facing Mo Vaughn last night, and Vaughn crushed three -- his 42nd, 43rd and 44th homers of the season.

Brady Anderson and Cal Ripken hit homers for the Orioles, whose lead over Seattle in the wild-card race fell to one game; the Mariners played a late game against California last night. But Chicago won and now is 1 1/2 games behind the Orioles, who have five games left.

The New York Yankees can clinch the AL East title today if they sweep a doubleheader, or if they split and the Orioles lose to Boston in the second game of this two-game series. The Yankees have a 4 1/2 -game edge, and any combi- nation of two Yankees' victories and Orioles' losses will eliminate the Orioles.

Asked if the Orioles were reduced to pursuing a wild-card berth, Johnson said, "I would say probably, realistically we are. But as long as you're not mathematically eliminated "

Since the end of August, three-fourths of the Orioles rotation has disintegrated. Rookie Rocky Coppinger came down with soreness in his forearm (last night it was decided to give him a fourth day of rest and start Rick Krivda tonight), and Mike Mussina and Wells have gone flat.

Mussina has allowed 36 hits and 19 earned runs in 28 2/3 innings over his past five starts, a 5.97 ERA. Wells has been worse, giving up 25 earned runs in 28 innings over his last five starts, an 8.03 ERA.

"That's the penalty you might have to pay for doing it," Johnson said of the four-man rotation.

Along with that, the Orioles suddenly are starving for effective relief pitching, with Alan Mills sidelined by a groin pull.

The Orioles, down 5-2 after three innings, came back to tie the score at 5-all in the top of the fifth. But Vaughn led off the sixth with his third homer in three at-bats, a monstrous shot over the Red Sox bullpen in right-center field, completing the first three-homer game by a Boston player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1976.

"He just had a great ballgame," Johnson said. "That's just the difference in the game tonight."

After Vaughn's third homer, Jose Canseco walked, Mike

Greenwell singled, and after a grounder left runners at first and third, Jeff Manto lined a single to left, and Johnson called for relief. For once, Wells did not argue.

If Mills was healthy, Armando Benitez probably would've taken over for Wells, with the Orioles only down two runs in the sixth. But Benitez has been pressed into late-inning duty, and it was Archie Corbin who came on to pitch after Wells.

Corbin walked the next two hitters, forcing in a run, and when the inning was over, Boston possessed a four-run cushion, at 9-5.

Wells never really had anything, nothing late, nothing early, when the Red Sox built their early advantage.

A steady wind rippled the flag toward left field, turning Fenway Park's Green Monster into a giant problem for pitchers. Two outs into the bottom of the first, Vaughn whacked at a fastball with his uppercut, and the ball leaped off his bat in a high arc toward left. Orioles left fielder B. J. Surhoff waited in place for a moment, then began drifting and drifting until he touched the wall with an outstretched hand.

Vaughn had flipped his bat down in disappointment, but as he looked toward left, he saw the ball drop into the net over the wall. Wells' body jerked as he yelled out loud in anger, and Vaughn circled the bases with his 42nd home run.

But Anderson blasted a first-pitch fastball -- when will opposing pitchers stop throwing those to him? -- with a runner at first in the third inning, and his drive curled around the right-field foul pole, his 47th homer.

The Orioles' 2-1 lead didn't survive in the bottom of the third. Bill Haselman homered over the left-field wall, a ball that needed no help from the wind. Rudy Pemberton doubled, Darren Bragg bunted for a single, and after Jeff Frye's sacrifice fly scored Pemberton, Vaughn hit a drive almost identical to his first homer -- an inside pitch, a tremendous uppercut with a high follow-through, a high fly to left, Surhoff edging back toward the wall and staring up, the ball falling into the net, this one only a foot or so over the edge.

Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles walked slowly to the mound, where Wells stood, his mouth turned down. Hoiles said something to him, and Wells grinned, probably laughing at his own bad luck. There was no humor in the Orioles' situation, however, trailing by 5-2, on the road, their slim lead in the wild-card race under siege.

But in this wild-card race, the contending teams are all flawed, with flawed pitching staffs, and the odds of Boston starter Tom Gordon holding the three-run advantage were about as good as John F. Kennedy Jr. remaining a lifetime bachelor.

Ripken whacked his 25th homer leading off the top of the fourth, and the Orioles scored a second run in the inning when Gordon slipped and fell trying to field Roberto Alomar's two-out dribbler in front of the plate.

All the pitchers and outfielders had a tough time with their footing last night, after an early-inning misting slickened the grass.

Ripken doubled with two outs in the fifth, and Eddie Murray lashed a single to right, where Boston's Pemberton charged and prepared to throw home. But as he set himself to catch-and-throw, Pemberton's feet came out from underneath him, and Ripken scored unchallenged. Wells and the Orioles were back in business, tied 5-all.

Pub Date: 9/25/96

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