Losing O's tumble into 2-digit hole Lowly White Sox sink Mussina, Orioles, 6-4, for 4th loss in 5 games

Boston 10 up in loss column

Becker 3-run HR in 9th only eases humiliation

August 26, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO -- The destitute Orioles ran out of change last night. As they reverted to the look that often made them punch lines in the first half, the miracle meter expired in an embarrassing 6-4 loss to the woeful Chicago White Sox. Fittingly, the performance occurred in Comiskey Park, Jerry Reinsdorf's mausoleum, before an announced crowd of 15,776.

Don't be deceived by the two-run difference. The Orioles managed four hits through eight innings off three rookie pitchers before center fielder Rich Becker's three-run homer in the ninth made it misleadingly close.

Few in attendance realized they were also witnessing history. Down nine games in the wild-card "race" to the Boston Red Sox, the Orioles also trail by 10 losses with 31 games remaining. A playoff chase is ending quietly.

"I don't think guys sit around thinking it's attainable or unattainable. We're just trying to play better baseball," said Orioles starter Mike Mussina (12-7), who took the loss for yielding five runs in 6 2/3 innings -- two on his last pitch. "If we're able to do that we can work ourselves back into it. Whether that continues or not, I don't know. We have to play better than we've shown the last couple days. That's pretty obvious.

"We'll have to wait and see. If we go in a slump and lose three or four games in a week and Boston wins five or six games in a week, that's pretty much going to end it."

The last five days fit Mussina's description. The Orioles have lost four of five since climbing within 6 1/2 games of the Red Sox last Thursday afternoon. Meanwhile Boston shows no signs of slipping against inferior teams, a trait the Orioles haven't exhibited all season. The woebegone White Sox broke a six-game losing streak after returning from a 1-8 road trip. They did it by leading throughout while handling the Orioles with an anonymous foursome of Tom Fordham, Chad Bradford, Bob Howry and Keith Foulke.

The White Sox scored all their runs with two outs, four in the seventh inning, including three on back-to-back home runs by Frank Thomas and Albert Belle; the Orioles were unable to convert one-out threats in the second and third innings.

"The first guy [Fordham] got away. We should have scored more runs off him," said Orioles manager Ray Miller. "The second guy [Bradford] was different. We had a little bit too much too late. We should've scored more runs."

The Orioles instead extended their weekend offensive funk against a pitcher making only his fifth major-league start. Willis Otanez got the Orioles' first hit in his first major-league appearance with a two-out single in the second. The Orioles challenged Fordham for the first time in the third by loading the bases with a pair of one-out walks sandwiched around a hit. But they got nothing when Eric Davis lined into a fielder's choice off Fordham's right shin and slumping Rafael Palmeiro struck out on a letter-high pitch. Palmeiro ended the game riding a 4-for-39 skid.

The fifth inning suggested time had run out not only on a game, but perhaps on a season.

Fordham virtually presented the Orioles a tie game by issuing a leadoff walk to Mike Bordick followed by consecutive singles from Roberto Alomar and B. J. Surhoff. Surhoff's hit scored Bordick for a 2-1 game and moved White Sox manager Jerry Manual to lift Fordham for Bradford.

The sidearmer Bradford stunned a free-swinging team. Davis struck out weakly. Palmeiro cracked a line drive directly at Greg Norton at first base for an inning-ending double play. It was too much for Palmeiro, who flung his bat.

"It was disappointing to say the least. We had pitches to hit. Instead you swing and miss and pop them up. One at-bat for me doesn't change the first three," said Becker, who went 1-for-4.

There may have been uglier meltdowns by the Orioles this season but none more final than last night's seventh inning. One out away from holding onto a 2-1 game, Mussina collapsed behind a leaky defense that allowed two stolen bases, one without a throw after a runner was picked off. The fallout resulted in four two-out runs, consecutive home runs by Thomas and Belle, and a crestfallen clubhouse.

With two outs, Ray Durham singled. He stole second and immediately scored on Mike Caruso's single for a 3-1 lead.

Mussina's luck against the White Sox this season has been either bad or nonexistent. He left an April 16 start against them with a ruptured wart on his right index finger and had to endure a stay on the 15-day disabled list. His absence started the Orioles' tumble from a 10-2 start.

Miller trudged to the mound for an extended conversation with Mussina about Thomas, who owned six home runs in 51 career at-bats against the Orioles' ace. According to Mussina, it was "a group decision" to pitch to Thomas.

"You've got to give your ace one more hitter, especially with two outs," said Miller.

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