After some signs of life, O's come to a dead stop

June 01, 1998|By JOHN EISENBERG

A $69 million team playing like a $69 million team would have swept four games from the Rangers over the weekend.

The Orioles managed only a split culminating in a 9-5 loss yesterday at Camden Yards, wasting a chance to start making something out of this nothing season.

So the (getting) beat goes on with more than a third of the season completed now and the Orioles still lacking a pulse.

You want a pulse? Check out the Yankees, who fell 11 runs behind the Red Sox yesterday, kept hacking and hustling, knocked out the Sox's ace, Pedro Martinez, and cut the lead to four runs before losing in the end. Talk about going down with a fight.

The Orioles? They went down almost silently yesterday after Juan Gonzalez hit a 354-foot grand slam to give the Rangers a four-run lead in the third inning.

"The game was over after [that]," said the Orioles' Scott Erickson, who gave up the slam.

The game was over in the third inning? We won't donate that comment to the Determination Hall of Fame.

But hey, Erickson was just being honest; the Orioles are 5-21 when the other team scores first and 1-23 when behind after seven innings. Their comebacks are few.

And please, give Erickson credit for talking at all on a day when too many of his teammates were still in the trainer's room or elsewhere almost an hour after the game, leaving too few to take the heat in the clubhouse.

The Orioles cleared their clubhouse a lot better than they cleared the bases yesterday. They stranded 14 runners, including six in the first two innings.

The Yankees are at their lockers after they lose, by the way.

It's not "early" anymore. It's June. It's hot. And the Orioles are in trouble.

With their starting rotation in tatters for now and maybe later, they'll only get so many chances to grow some momentum. This was one of those chances. And the Orioles wasted it.

They won on Thursday and Friday to give them five wins in six games, as the Rangers' losing streak stretched to a season-high six games. Then they came back from five runs down to take a one-run lead into the eighth inning Saturday night.

With Camden Yards rocking, the Rangers reeling and Erickson -- a rare healthy starter -- set to pitch the next day, a sweep seemed possible. Maybe, at last, the club was starting to play up to its payroll.

Sorry. That was last year.

Instead of turning the slim lead over to the late-inning tag team of Armando Benitez and Randy Myers, as they did last year, the Orioles turned to rookie Sidney Ponson, who gave up a huge two-run homer to Lee Stevens.

The Rangers went on to win, 10-8, and then won again yesterday.

Why was Ponson, 21, in the game? Why is he here at all despite having never pitched above Double-A until this season?

Because there was little choice. Mike Mussina, Scott Kamieniecki and Jimmy Key are on the disabled list, Benitez and Alan Mills had to sit out suspensions last week and, basically, the staff is toast.

The result was a critical home run that hit Eutaw Street, taking the Orioles' momentum with it.

Were they on the verge of starting something before Stevens' Boogblast, which hit Boog Powell's barbecue stand?

"Sure," manager Ray Miller said after yesterday's loss. "We played a hell of a game [Saturday]."

But they lost. Then they lost again yesterday with a fine imitation of a fourth-place team 17 games out in the loss column. Which is precisely where they are.

And now -- shhhhh -- they're on another losing streak. Parental guidance suggested.

The wild card will keep them in playoff contention, of course, but let's not kid anyone.

This is a team that needs daily help to stay ahead of the Devil Rays and out of last place.

This is a team hitting 100 points lower than the Rangers with two outs and runners in scoring position.

This is a team that will turn tonight to an emergency starter named Richie Lewis, who, if you recall, the Orioles gave up to the Marlins in the 1992 expansion draft.

Thursday night's starter in Fenway Park?

"I can't even think that far ahead," Miller said.

It's ugly, folks, and there are no signs that things are getting even a little prettier.

A sweep of the Rangers, even three wins in the series, would have qualified as such a sign.

Anything other than yesterday's wretched loss might have qualified as a sign that this wasn't a team going absolutely nowhere.

But the Orioles let the Rangers get away. They're 12-15 at home now. A half-game out of last place.

Nowhere.

The only good news is May is over. The Orioles lost 17 of 28 games, three starters to injury and their dignity in the Yankee Stadium beanbrawl.

"It was a rough month," Miller said. "One of the roughest in my 20-something years in the big leagues."

But the prospects for June aren't much better unless the Orioles start proving they're capable of more. They certainly haven't yet.

Pub Date: 6/01/98

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