Montreal low-fives O's, 3-1 Losing streak hits 5

halfway point finds O's year-low 7 under .500

Mussina yields 2 in 7th

0-4 road trip provides little cause for optimism

June 28, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

MONTREAL -- The night before, Ray Miller had looked at the schedule, looked at his next starting pitcher, looked at the state of his bullpen and predicted an imminent turnaround against the Montreal Expos.

Instead, the Orioles reached the season's depressing midpoint as they had spent much of the past three months -- struggling against unproven pitching while wasting a solid performance by starting pitcher Mike Mussina.

The result was a fifth straight loss last night, 3-1, against Expos rookie right-hander Carl Pavano, and a descent to 37-44 that equals their farthest point below .500 this season. No turnaround. Rather the Orioles find themselves staring in the same bleak direction as before they began an 0-4 road trip.

The Orioles seek to avoid a sweep today, a far more modest goal from Miller's predicted turnaround.

Pavano (2-1) came to the Expos from the Boston Red Sox as part of a package for Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez. A year ago he was considered the best arm in the minor leagues. Last night he looked like the best arm in Olympic Stadium.

Except for Chris Hoiles' bases-empty home run in the second inning, the Orioles never figured out Pavano. They reached him for only four hits in seven innings. Pavano walked one, struck out four and never allowed more than one hit in an inning.

These are the 1998 Orioles. They repeatedly sidestep an opponent's ace yet are still unable to capitalize against underaged or underachieving starters. The crime was compounded by not accepting a gift from their own stopper two nights after a similar effort by Scott Erickson became a 3-2 loss in New York.

Mussina (6-5) pitched well enough to win, but received a backhand from his offense. Five days after throwing a two-hit complete game against the New York Mets, he was less precise but nearly as effective vs. the Expos, who have won two in a row after a four-game losing streak. The loss was Mussina's first on the road and raised his ERA away from Camden Yards to 1.53.

Trailing 1-0, the Expos gained a tie in the third inning when third baseman Shane Andrews singled, took second on Pavano's sacrifice bunt and third on a wild pitch. Mussina then surrendered a double to second baseman Jose Vidro.

The Expos again used the bottom of their lineup to manufacture two runs in the seventh. Catcher Chris Widger led off with a single. Andrews then bunted the runner over and Scott Livingstone pinch hit for Pavano.

A .172 hitter with two extra-base hits in 58 at-bats, Livingstone drilled a double past right fielder Rich Becker to score Andrews. Vidro then reappeared to grab his second RBI with a single to score pinch runner Orlando Cabrera.

With Pavano gone, the Orioles threatened the Expos' bullpen in the eighth inning when pinch hitters Jeff Reboulet and Joe Carter singled to manufacture a first-and-second situation with one out. Expos manager Felipe Alou summoned Rick DeHart to face Rafael Palmeiro, who quickly worked a 3-0 count. Palmeiro then popped out to the catcher on the fourth pitch. Roberto Alomar followed to smack a first-pitch grounder to short, ending the threat.

The slumping Orioles have scored 10 runs on a dismal road trip, which has extended their road losing streak to six games. They also tumbled 21 1/2 games off the division lead and 11 1/2 games behind wild-card leader Boston. They are 13 games down to the Red Sox in the loss column.

Miller has tried to maintain belief in a club that is operating with four dependable relievers, two proven starters and an outfield minus its starting right fielder. Doug Drabek returns from the disabled list today but the wait continues for Jimmy Key and Scott Kamieniecki.

A hope to remain competitive until both return is becoming fantasy. There exists no basis for a winning streak given the uncertain rotation. The Orioles have won only eight games this season when allowing more than three runs.

Miller's turnaround may eventually come, but with a different meaning. As playoff possibilities slide below the season's horizon, the Orioles may become more prone to thinking about where they may ship some of their 12 pending free agents.

Orioles today

Opponent: Montreal Expos

Site: Olympic Stadium, Montreal

Time: 1: 35 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: O's Doug Drabek (5-7, 6.72) vs. Expos' Javier Vazquez (1-6, 5.63)

Easy marks?

Since their 10-2 start, the Orioles have played .391 ball (9-14) against teams in fourth or fifth place in their division:

.. .. .. .. .. .. ..Overall .. . .. .. ..Record

Team .. .. .. .. ....record . .. .. .. .vs. O's

Tampa .. .. .. .. .. .33-46 .. .. .. .. .. .5-2

Chicago-A .. .. .. ...32-47 .. .. .. .. .. .3-1

Montreal .. .. .. .. .32-47 .. .. .. .. .. .2-0

Oakland .. .. .. .. ..35-43 .. .. .. .. .. .3-3

Seattle .. .. .. .. ..33-47 .. .. .. .. .. .1-3

Pub Date: 6/28/98

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