Orioles fall with thud in 9th, 6-5 Rodriguez's 2-run HR caps Texas rally as O's streak, 5-0 lead vanish

September 16, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Any semblance of hope that the Orioles had of bucking tremendous odds and landing the wild card went flying into the left-field seats last night. One bad pitch, one mighty swing, and one more reason to plan for next season.

Shying away from the fastball that had gotten him ahead in the count, Armando Benitez served up a two-run homer to Ivan Rodriguez in the ninth inning to snatch away Chris Fussell's first major-league victory and end the Orioles' winning streak at six games with a 6-5 loss to the Texas Rangers before 41,363 at Camden Yards.

Benitez, making his third straight appearance, replaced left-hander Arthur Rhodes after Will Clark, playing with a broken big toe, beat out his second infield hit of the night with none out. Rodriguez fell behind 1-2, then turned on a slider that hung on the inner half of the plate and launched it 380 feet inside the left-field foul pole for his 19th homer.

"I was just trying to hit the ball hard," he said.

By doing so, he knocked the Orioles 7 1/2 games behind Boston for the wild card with only 12 remaining. They had won 134 straight games when ahead after eight innings.

The blast also ended a streak of nine consecutive strikeouts for Benitez (5-5) over three outings, and continued a disturbing trend for the club's maligned closer. It was the 10th homer off him in 66 innings, and the seventh to the first batter he's faced.

"There's a fine line between a slider that's three inches down or three inches up," said manager Ray Miller. "He caught one and that's why he's a great hitter."

"[Benitez] threw him a couple fastballs and he had some pretty good swings at them," said catcher Lenny Webster. "We thought if he got the slider down we might have a chance to turn two. But it stayed up and he hit it a ton."

"This is going to give us some momentum going in there tomorrow night," said Texas manager Johnny Oates, whose Rangers play host to first-place Anaheim in a two-game series beginning tonight. "Now we go home one game down, knowing we're going head-to-head with them in five of the next eight games."

The night began with Sidney Ponson unable to take his scheduled turn because of a blister on his right index finger that proved too bothersome as he threw without it bandaged. The Orioles (77-73) cast aside one rookie for another, and a glimpse into their pitching future became worthy of a long, hard look.

Debuting in the majors just a week out of Triple-A, Fussell tossed five shutout innings before tiring in the sixth. He was charged with three runs, two scoring after he had left to a standing ovation.

A ninth-round pick in the 1994 draft, Fussell began the year at Double-A Bowie and earned a promotion to Rochester despite winning only three times in 10 decisions. Now, he was facing the top-hitting team in the American League.

Miller said he told Fussell on Monday that the Ohio native would replace Ponson, but kept it from the media to lessen the pressure. Tension would build in the first inning, though, when Fussell allowed a leadoff single to Tom Goodwin and walked Mark McLemore.

He needed 21 pitches to get through the first inning, but wouldn't struggle again until the sixth, departing after a leadoff walk to Goodwin and consecutive singles by McLemore and Rusty Greer that produced the first Texas run. He threw 90 pitches, allowing four hits, walking four and striking out five.

"It was a little surprising [to start], but I'm glad he gave it to me and I hope I showed that I could do it," said Fussell, who struck out the side in the second inning. "I thought maybe one of the other guys would get the start, but once he told me I was ready."

The Orioles scored twice in the second off right-hander Esteban Loaiza, himself an emergency fill-in after John Burkett was held back because of muscle spasms in his neck. They added three more in the third, the last two coming on Cal Ripken's 14th homer, and appeared ready to sweep their third consecutive series despite being shut out over the last six innings.

Rhodes had turned in three scoreless innings heading into the ninth, permitting just two infield hits. The second, to Clark, came on a ball that Alomar laid back on before making a late throw.

"Robbie was playing him extremely deep and looked like he didn't really get a handle on it," Miller said. "But that's baseball. These things happen."

Miller called on Benitez, who had allowed two hits in four confrontations with Rodriguez. The other two at-bats ended in strikeouts. This one appeared to end a season.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Red Sox's Bret Saberhagen (13-7, 4.00) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (15-11, 4.04)

Tickets: 5,200 remain

Tragic number: 6 (combination of Orioles losses and Red Sox wins needed to eliminate Orioles from AL wild-card race).

Pub Date: 9/16/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.