Orioles stuck at 3 to clinch 11-3 loss to Tigers leaves Yanks 4 back

attendance mark set

September 22, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

There will be no division title celebration tonight at Camden Yards. The Orioles could not shave anything off their magic number against the Detroit Tigers yesterday, and the New York Yankees weren't in a cooperative mood either, so it will not rain champagne until tomorrow night in Toronto at the earliest.

The Tigers showered Jimmy Key with base hits and hammered out an 11-3 victory on the day that the Orioles set a club record for regular-season attendance. The sellout crowd of 47,446 brought the season total to 3,664,506 with one home date to go, but that record was rewarded with an uninspired performance that allowed the Yankees to creep to within four games of first place in the American League East.

The division championship does not appear to be in any danger. The magic number stands at three with a week to go. The Orioles would have to drop four of their last seven games and the Yankees would have to run the table to prevent a wire-to-wire Orioles title, but there is some concern in the clubhouse about the way the team is inching toward its first division title since 1983.

"You want to go into the playoffs playing well," said Key, who lasted 4 2/3 innings in his next-to-last start of the regular season, "but we still have a week to go. We still have a chance to go into the playoffs on a positive note."

Key gave up five runs on seven hits and took the loss, dropping his record to 16-10. He surrendered hits to the first four batters he faced and gave up three runs in the first inning, but stayed around to throw 105 pitches and finish stronger than he started.

It was a disappointing performance, considering his strong effort against the Cleveland Indians on Tuesday, but manager Davey Johnson said Key likely would take his regular turn on Friday in preparation for his first playoff start.

"I left him out there to see if he could work the kinks out, and he seemed to get it together," Johnson said. "I was ready to hook him after three innings, but I decided to send him back out there. Maybe he got it worked out. I don't know. He said he felt pretty good physically."

Though Key is reporting no physical problems, he has passed the 200-inning mark and has not been as sharp during the past couple of months as he was in the first half. Of course, he had a tough act to follow after winning 11 of his first 12 decisions, but that doesn't explain away a 5.96 ERA over his past five starts.

The Tigers went down in order in the second inning, but Key paid dearly for a two-out walk to Tony Clark in the third, when Damion Easley launched his 21st home run of the year over the center-field fence to put Detroit up by five runs. Easley also would homer off Esteban Yan, as the Tigers put up six runs in the sixth to turn the game into a rout.

Promising Tigers starter Justin Thompson, who is not used to such generous support, worked a solid six innings, giving up three runs on five hits on the way to his 15th victory of the year.

The loss was the 10th in 16 games for the Orioles, who once were on pace to win more than 100 games, but now would have to close very strong -- winning six of their last seven games -- to get there. But, with a playoff berth already assured and the Yankees needing a miracle to steal the division title, the club is having trouble generating the intensity to finish with a flourish.

"That's possible," said Key. "You might be in a situation where guys are saying to themselves, 'We know we're in.' There's something to be said for keeping an edge. We've got to find a way to get that edge back by the postseason."

Hoiles agreed, but said that the unfinished business of locking up the division title should be motivation enough to get the club moving in the right direction.

"The way things are going is not the way you want to finish," he said, "but I have a feeling that by the end of the regular season and the start of the postseason, things will probably turn around.

"To me, all these games really mean something until we clinch. Every game still is important, especially when we have to go into Toronto and Milwaukee after we play one more against these guys. Even though we do have a playoff berth, I want to go wire-to-wire to win the division and go in there winning. I think the next seven games are going to be very important for us."

The Tigers seemed more motivated yesterday. The victory -- their second in three games in this series -- moved them within a game of .500, which is a lofty place for a team that lost 109 games last year.

The Orioles never really were in the game, but there was a handful of offensive highlights. Eric Davis, making consecutive starts for the first time since May, singled in three at-bats. Cal Ripken reached base twice in three trips. And Rafael Palmeiro provided most of the club's offensive production with his 36th home run of the year, a two-run shot in the sixth.

TTC Orioles tonight

Opponent: Detroit Tigers

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 35 p.m.

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Tigers' Brian Moehler (11-11, 4.67) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (16-7, 3.80)

Tickets: Only standing room, day-of-game bleachers left

O's magic number: 3 (any combination of Orioles wins and Yankees losses to clinch AL East title)

AL East standings

........... W ... L ... GB ... GR

Orioles .. 94 .. 61 ... -- .... 7

Yankees .. 90 .. 65 .... 4 .... 7

Tough luck

Jimmy Key ended a nine-start winless streak at Camden Yards Tuesday, but yesterday suffered his ninth loss in his past 11 home appearances, in which he has a 5.21 ERA.

Date ..... Res. .. Inn. .. ER

Sept. 21 ... L .... 4 2/3 . 5

Sept. 16 ... W .... 7 2/3 . 0

Sept. 11 ... L .... 5 1/3 . 6

Aug. 31 .... L .... 6 ..... 4

Aug. 26 .... L .... 6 2/3 . 3

Aug. 15 .... L .... 4 1/3 . 6

July 16 .... L .... 6 2/3 . 4

July 11 .... L .... 6 ..... 2

June 28 .... L .... 4 ..... 2

June 18 .... L .... 7 1/3 . 1

June 3 .... ND .... 7 ..... 5

Pub Date: 9/22/97

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