Orioles thrown for loss by Yankees Concern over staff grows after Key, 'pen get pounded, 14-2

N.Y. scores nine in sixth

Pettitte bounces back, cruises to 17th victory

September 12, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Maybe last weekend wasn't too early to call the American League East race over, but now is definitely not too late to fret about the Orioles' starting rotation.

The New York Yankees and Andy Pettitte supplied another reason last night, pummeling the Orioles and Jimmy Key, 14-2, before a quick-leaving 47,066 at Camden Yards. Worse than dropping the Orioles' lead to 7 1/2 games, the beating reminded the Orioles that this is a delicate time as the postseason approaches.

Scott Kamieniecki threw yesterday afternoon for the first time since experiencing cramps in his right biceps Monday night. Mike Mussina warmed for the first time since leaving Sunday's start with a cut finger. Key left after 5 1/3 innings last night with questions still dangling about his recent performance.

Some suggest he is fatigued after reaching 190 innings for the first time since 1993. Others believe he has merely misplaced the seamless mechanics that made him the league's most consistent pitcher in the first half.

Whatever the reason, the solution has been missing ever since ** he needed 112 pitches in Seattle on Aug. 5. Pitch counts that once took him through seven innings now get him through five. In his first 14 starts, Key was 11-1 with a 2.47 ERA; in his last 17 starts, he is 4-8 with a 3.98 ERA. In his last two outings, Key has been a party to the most exhaustive nine-inning game in history and the Orioles' worst inning in more than a year.

Pettitte (17-7) hasn't lost since Aug. 6, winning four of seven starts since. Last night's performance may have been his best of the season.

After bashing the Yankees for 25 runs last weekend, they were totally locked down by last year's Cy Young Award runner-up. Brady Anderson led off the first inning with an opposite-field single, then nothing.

Anderson became the only Oriole to reach scoring position through five innings but was stranded at third. Pettitte then retired 17 consecutive hitters as the Orioles absorbed their worst beating of the season.

The night's most excruciating lowlight came in an endless sixth inning when 13 Yankees went through three pitchers for nine runs, six hits and four walks. It was the most runs scored in an inning by the Yankees since last Sept. 26, the day their clinched the American League East. It was the most runs surrendered in an inning by the Orioles since they allowed 16 to the Texas Rangers in the eighth inning April 19, 1996.

This same pairing had started the longest nine-inning game in major-league history last Friday, a 4: 22 marathon that included 389 pitches, 211 from Orioles pitching. Cal Ripken's first-inning line drive to the mound knocked out Pettitte with a bloody mouth and an injured left thumb, beginning a chaotic bullpen procession. The Orioles then surged to a 13-9 win in spite of Key's troubled five innings.

There was no such trouble last night. At least not for Pettitte.

For Key, the outing resurrected concerns about his staying power in a season that began brightly but has lately been colored by frustration. Last night's dropped him to 2-3 since July 21 and left him winless in nine home starts since May 7.

With only three starts remaining until the postseason, Key has given the Orioles cause for concern. He has become consistently reachable. In his last eight starts he has allowed 24 earned runs in 34 1/3 innings, a 6.29 ERA.

Key had worked twice on the side since his last start to slightly alter his delivery. Rather than drop his hands to initiate his wind, Key raised them. The hope was for him to rediscover the arm position that took him to an 11-1 start.

Instead of stumbling in early innings as had become his habit, Key struck out three in the first two innings without allowing a base runner. His trouble came later, with a suggestion of injury.

The third inning grabbed him hard. His crime was allowing a leadoff single to Chad Curtis followed by a one-out flare by Rey xTC Sanchez over third base. With runners at first and third and one out, Derek Jeter grounded sharply to Ripken's backhand. Ripken crouched for the ball but was too late. Charged with his 20th error, Ripken's misplay allowed Curtis to score from second and Sanches to take third. Wade Boggs' high chop to first base scored Sanchez with the inning's second unearned run and a 2-0 lead.

Key took another hit in the fifth when Curtis led off with a single, stole second base without a throw and was sacrificed to third by Jorge Posada. Curtis scored on a foul ball that right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds snared with a sliding catch.

Key appeared to labor through the fifth inning. At one point, Johnson and trainer Richie Bancells went to the mound to check whether Key had injured himself. He remained in the game, but struggled more in the sixth.

Boggs doubled to lead off. Bernie Williams walked with one out, setting up Tino Martinez to single home Boggs with a dribbler to right field. An intentional walk loaded the bases and Curtis chased Key with his third hit, a single that scored Williams for a 5-0 lead.

Key left and the inning completely collapsed beneath Brian Williams, who came on to surrender a sacrifice fly, two hits and a walk that left the Yankees with a 9-0 lead.

The whipping wasn't over. Terry Mathews relieved Williams and immediately gave up Paul O'Neill's 20th home run to jack the lead to 12-0.

The Orioles avoided a shutout in the sixth inning when Aaron Ledesma singled took third on a double error by second baseman Sanchez and scored on Geronimo Berroa's single. The rest was details of a lost night that left the Orioles pondering the state of their prized rotation.

Pub Date: 9/12/97

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