Minus 'fire,' O's doused, 6-3 Irked at 1-8, Miller calls for '99 'energy infusion'

September 24, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- Clearing customs was going to be a challenge given all the heavy baggage the Orioles brought south last night.

Apparently hellbent on finishing a lost season with a losing record, the Orioles suffered a perfunctory 6-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays before 28,147 last night at SkyDome to fall to 78-80. Their eighth loss in nine games completed a sweep of the three-game series and prompted manager Ray Miller to question a veteran clubhouse's makeup.

Miller, who purged his bench following the sixth inning, tersely suggested upcoming changes in the team's chemistry may cut deeper than expected.

"It's been very important to me for the last week, but I'm not so sure how important it's been to everyone else. I don't mean people aren't trying to get hits or aren't trying to play, but there's a certain fire missing. And I don't know if that's because they [eight pending free agents] don't have contracts, but I don't like it," Miller said.

First baseman Rafael Palmeiro added embarrassment to a laugher when he assumed a walk in the sixth inning after three balls.

Brady Anderson suffered an 0-for-3 and is in a 1-for-15 funk. He has four RBIs this month and again failed with runners on base. Roberto Alomar went 2-for-4 but is hitting only .207 since Aug. 25. B. J. Surhoff, his perfect attendance for the season intact, continues to labor at a .229 pace since July 16. Like Alomar and Palmeiro, he is among the Orioles' pending free agents.

How frustrated is the skipper?

Miller left Canada with the last two fingers on his right hand

taped, the result of a solid punch thrown at an office chair after Monday's 3-1 loss.

Mike Mussina lost his opportunity for a fifth consecutive 15-win season Tuesday as the Orioles clinched a fourth-place finish, their lowest standing since a sixth-place finish in 1991.

The Orioles, who were held hitless after Tuesday's fifth inning and scored two runs last night after Miller adopted a Double-A lineup, have been checked on three runs or fewer in six of their past 10 games. Last night dropped the Orioles a season-high 32 games out of first place. Miller says he has run out of ways to motivate players supposedly capable of motivating themselves.

"If you're going to be paid among the top 10 percent at your position, then you should produce in the top 10 percent of your position. If you don't, there should be some sense of accountability," said Miller. "I think in a clubhouse you have to have some haves, some have-nots and some wanna-bes."

Miller's implication is clear: compiled for a final World Series run, a graying roster rife with pending free agents has lost its edge.

Miller was reluctant to discuss players' contract status for much of this season, but the recent skid that has dumped the Orioles two games below .500 for the first time since July 21 has loosened his tongue.

"There's a real need for an infusion of energy here. You usually do that with speed and youth," he said, irritated over the eight-inning lockdown administered by Blue Jays starter Kelvim Escobar (7-3).

Pressed on whether he expects an off-season overhaul, Miller said, "It might end up that way."

The Orioles led for 2 1/2 innings in the series, but never had a whiff last night. Juan Guzman (10-16) endured the roughest of his 10 starts with the Orioles as his former team reached him for six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.

Guzman no longer sounds like a pitcher eager to return. His agent, Tony Attanasio, is pressing the Orioles for a three-year extension, which is the right of any player traded during a multi-year deal. In a demoralized clubhouse, Guzman acknowledged "it doesn't matter where I pitch" next year. Guzman's complicated health history makes it unlikely the Orioles will agree to the $20 million package he will likely seek.

"I'm ready to go somewhere and pitch. It doesn't really matter to me. I just don't want to go through the same situation as this year where I pitch for somebody and then get traded," he said.

Handed a 6-1 deficit, Rocky Coppinger continued to show more than his disgruntled reputation by throwing three shutout innings. He struck out two, walked none and kept a bloated score from becoming even more unseemly.

Miller was later asked what he could do about the malaise with only four games remaining.

"I'm going to play my best lineup and try to beat Boston," he said.

Now, his "best lineup" may include different names, replacing the "haves" with the "wanna-bes."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site: Fenway Park, Boston

Time: 7: 05

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: O's Sidney Ponson (8-8, 5.10) vs. Red Sox's Pedro Martinez (18-7, 2.77)

Deep regrets

Aside from a two-game stay at Camden Yards July 13-14, the Blue Jays have homered in every game against the Orioles this season. A look (s-site):

D ..... S ..... No. .... Whom

6/12 .. T ..... 3 ...... Fernandez off

........ Orosco; Stanley off

............... ........ Charlton, Orosco

6/13 .. T ..... 3 ...... Dalesandro, Stanley

........ off Johns; Gonzalez

............... ........ off Drabek

6/14 .. T ..... 2 ...... Sprague, Canseco off

............... ........ Smith

6/18 .. B ..... 2 ...... Stanley off Benitez;

............... ........ Gonzalez off Charlton

6/19 .. B ..... 2 ...... Canseco, Stanley off

............... ........ Smith

6/20 .. B ..... 1 ...... Dalesandro off

........ Erickson

6/21 .. B ..... 4 ...... Delgado, Green off

............... ........ Ponson; Sprague off

............... ........ Benitez, Ponson

9/21 .. T ..... 2 ...... Delgado, Green off

............... ........ Erickson

9/22 .. T ..... 3 ...... Canseco (2),

........ Fernandez off

............... ........ Mussina

9/23 .. T ..... 2 ...... Stewart, Delgado

........ off Guzman

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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