Yanks keep O's behind 8 ball

Wild pitch, 3-run HR in the 8th off Rhodes extend N.Y. hex, 6-3

Wind, luck aid 8th in row

Hit off bag stirs rally

Guzman effort wasted

April 14, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- April continues to unravel for the Orioles. Offered several chances last night to distance themselves from the New York Yankees, they instead hung around long enough to suffer a stunning 6-3 loss.

Reliever Arthur Rhodes (0-1) commanded center stage in the latest tragedy as his lack of control transformed a seemingly harmless eighth inning into a four-run outburst. Playing before a home crowd of 25,254, the Yankees took a 3-2 lead when Rhodes bounced a two-strike pitch past catcher Charles Johnson. On the next pitch they removed any remaining suspense on struggling catcher Jorge Posada's three-run homer.

At 2-5, the Orioles might concede it's unlikely they can catch the 6-1 Yankees. Right now they would settle for catching a break.

The latest loss, their fifth in six games and their eighth straight at Yankee Stadium, included botched bunts, wind-aided home runs, nonexistent clutch hitting and a late fold that sucked the breath from a stunned clubhouse.

Starter Juan Guzman gave the Orioles only their second quality start in seven games. His reward was a no-decision and a flashback to last season when he received the third-worst run support of any AL starter.

The Orioles entered averaging one run per 1.96 hits compared to the Yankees' one run per 1.26 hits. They reinforced the habit by stranding eight runners in the first four innings, leaving them a 2-1 lead despite outhitting the Yankees 7-1 in that span. Unknowingly, they lost the game there.

"I don't know if we're snakebit or not," said manager Ray Miller. "They're a good team, they're solid all the way through and when you believe things are going to happen they're going to happen. They're expecting good things to happen and it happens for them. Our guys played well. We just didn't come up with the big hit."

The Orioles did get the pitching performance they were looking for, however, thanks to Guzman.

Consistently high in the strike zone and behind in the count during his earlier 3 1/3-inning appearance, Guzman settled down after a first-inning run into the pattern he established in spring training.

Guzman retired eight straight hitters before walking Derek Jeter to lead off the fourth inning. He then retired the side to extend his run to 11 of 12 hitters before yielding the tying run in the sixth, finishing the inning and a strong five-hit performance.

"He showed me he's a championship-type pitcher tonight," Miller said. "He bore down and gave us a great outing. Over 162 games, if I get that kind of outing from the starters and the weather gets warmer, next thing you know they'll be going into the seventh inning and we'll be winning ballgames."

Despite Miller's optimism, seven games into the season finds the new-look Orioles' era of good feeling has been replaced by suggestions of playing under a dark cloud. The Orioles wake up today in last place, four games off the AL East lead. Even during last season's collapse they weren't this far back until their 24th game.

The Orioles experienced their share of bad luck but also failed to execute in several crucial situations.

With runners at first and second and none out in the third inning, the Orioles couldn't build on an unearned run.

In the eighth, Cal Ripken was asked to bunt B. J. Surhoff into scoring position. He fouled off one pitch and missed a second. With the bunt off, Ripken then lined to reliever Jeff Nelson (1-0) for a rally-killing double play.

The Orioles struggled again with runners in scoring position, going only 2-for-9 in such situations. The bottom four spots in the batting order were a combined 3-for-15.

Each of their runs could be traced to Yankees blunders -- second baseman Chuck Knoblauch's botched relay in the first inning, his error in the third (both of which were followed by Harold Baines' RBI singles) and a wild pitch in the ninth.

"You've got to have big hits. We didn't get any," lamented Miller, who has seen the same often this season.

The Yankees did what the Orioles tried to do but could not. A stiff breeze toward the right-field corner encouraged right-handed hitters to push the ball the opposite way. Jeter, the Yankees' gifted shortstop, did so beautifully in the first inning and was rewarded with a wind-blown home run.

In the sixth inning Jeter punished the Orioles again by driving a pitch over hesitant center fielder Brady Anderson for a leadoff triple that became the tying run.

"A ball that high that stays in the park I should catch," said Anderson, who battled the wind and misjudged the center-field fence.

Miller tried to stay upbeat.

"I don't see anybody not trying to execute," he said. "We were trying to stay inside the ball early tonight and drive it to right field. We just didn't get it done. This is a pretty good club. We're getting hits, but we're not getting the big hits. Then something freak happens late in the ballgame."

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