O's get gift, can't wrap up skid, 3-2 Marlins deal 4th loss in row despite gem by Mussina, HR off wall

Fundamental errors abound

Johnson moves in 10th irk several Orioles

September 03, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- They received a home run that wasn't, a winning pitching performance that didn't and were offered a game in the standings they wouldn't accept.

When done, the Orioles had suffered a wrenching 3-2 loss to the Florida Marlins in a 10-inning game last night they had every excuse to win but found every way to lose.

Edgar Renteria finally ended it with a two-out single against Terry Mathews (3-4) to score pinch runner Gregg Zaun, ending the Orioles' string of eight consecutive extra-inning wins while intensifying questions about an increasingly lost offense.

"Everything had to go wrong for us not to win this game. It did," manager Davey Johnson said after the Orioles' fourth loss in a row and sixth in eight games.

There have been more unsightly losses this season but few more painful for Johnson to watch. The Orioles suffered repeated fundamental breakdowns, defusing rallies by getting picked off, failing to bunt and again finding themselves frozen by runners in scoring position, with two men thrown out at the plate.

Again Mike Mussina took the fallout. He struck out nine and walked none during a seven-inning, six-hit performance but was left without a decision when Moises Alou tied the game with a two-run homer in the seventh.

No longer a candidate for 20 wins, Mussina has allowed two earned runs or fewer in nine of his past 10 starts only to be tagged with a 3-3 record in that span. He has been given 12 runs of support in his past five starts. Mussina hasn't won since Aug. 8 despite striking out 30 against two walks in his past three starts. There is no bigger indictment of an offense now bordering on dysfunctional.

"I'm not disappointed," Johnson said. "We're not losing ground. We're playing a very good ballclub. The Yankees are playing the Phillies and they lost a couple to them. We're just a little beat up. We've been involved in a lot of close games. We'll be fine."

Yet the club is concerned enough about its shrinking numbers that it is prepared to contact outfielder Eric Davis about when he might rejoin the team. Davis is in Los Angeles to attend his older's brother's funeral and, according to Johnson, is not anticipated back until after this week's four-game series against the Yankees.

Meanwhile, the club retains an upbeat public face. "That's normal after 135, 140 games. You're going to have guys banged up," said general manager Pat Gillick.

The losses were of many different sorts. Tony Tarasco received a rare start in right field only to be hit on the right shin by a fourth-inning pitch. X-rays proved negative but afterward he limped from the clubhouse unable to flex the foot. Others were more subtle as players were roiled at the game's frenetic ending. Before it was over, the game turned into button-pushing, double-switching madness between Johnson and Marlins manager Jim Leyland.

Johnson played the wildest move before the Marlins batted in the 10th. He replaced B. J. Surhoff in left field with Jerome Walton (who had pinch hit in the top of the inning), shifting Surhoff to second base. Johnson then reconsidered, returning Surhoff to left, removing Walton and inserting Aaron Ledesma at second base. At the same time, Johnson went to the mound with trainer Richie Bancells to check on pitcher Alan Mills, whom he removed because of a suspected groin strain, though Mills insisted he could continue.

Johnson's late-inning maneuverings infuriated several players. Visably upset, Mills stalked from the mound and did not answer questions afterward.

Called in after taking his position in left field, Surhoff flung his outfielder's glove into the dugout when told to move to second base. Jeff Reboulet had reacted angrily when removed for Walton with the bases loaded in the 10th.

For his part, Leyland used five pitchers within one six-hitter span.

He also removed left fielder Alou in a 10th-inning double switch. In addition to his home run, Alou had saved a run by throwing out Cal Ripken at the plate in the seventh.

"It was a fun game to manage for both guys," Leyland said, his mood affected by the Marlins' fifth straight win -- all against American League teams. "Davey Johnson is one of the best I've ever managed against. He's been a great manager for a long time."

But it was this kind of night inside the visitor's dugout: Johnson used three runners for one spot and got a pickoff in return.

Mathews, who replaced Mills, allowed a run for the eighth time in nine outings and suffered his second loss in four days. Johnson admittedly was reluctant to use him. Mathews was so infuriated by his performance and umpire Tom Gorman's strike zone that he showered, dressed and left the park within five minutes of Renteria's game-winner.

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