O's drop touchdown pass, 14-7

Yankees drive off Erickson early, 'pen late to win it twice

Knoblauch gets 5 of 17 hits

5 off Irabu in 7th cuts it to 8-7, spurs more woe

April 15, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- One by one, the Orioles filed silently up the runway to the Yankee Stadium visitors clubhouse, prisoners of their shortcomings. A team increasingly defined by what it cannot accomplish absorbed perhaps its most frustrating and most thorough loss last night, 14-7, to the New York Yankees.

Not only did the Orioles lose, they were beaten twice.

Trailing by six runs after a horrific outing by starter Scott Erickson (0-2), they constructed a five-run seventh inning and put the tying run on before the Yankees savaged the Orioles' delicate bullpen for six clinching runs.

The Orioles jailed themselves early with porous defense, fed the deficit with a poor Erickson outing and were ultimately punished by the Yankees lineup's top half, which went 12-for-20 with 24 total bases. Second baseman Chuck Knoblauch had five hits. Paul O'Neill slammed a game-breaking three-run homer off Jesse Orosco in the seventh inning. The Yankees scored on errors, hits, double plays and a balk.

Rather than dismiss their first eight games as some sort of "phase," the Orioles may now wonder whether they are fatally flawed. The starting rotation remains wildly inconsistent while the bullpen can't be trusted with anything perishable. Before Tuesday's loss, Ray Miller said of New York, "This is where you find out about your club." If his assessment is correct, the ramifications must cause those in the warehouse to shudder.

Explanations continue to narrow for what the Orioles are experiencing. Either poorly constructed or ill prepared, they have too often appeared overmatched and indecisive. Last night their porous pitching staff surrendered 17 hits, committed a costly early error and presumably retreated to the trainer's room to receive treatment for whiplash.

The Orioles are allowing six walks per game and have as many pitchers (four) with an ERA above 10.00 as they do below 7.00. They allowed a 3-2 game to explode, were given another chance when Harold Baines' 350th career home run made it 8-7 in the seventh, then disintegrated late.

Erickson made a vague reference to his spring workload, which he consistently maintained was too light and too disruptive.

"I think this is still part of getting ready, getting where you need to be," Erickson said. "The fewer times you go out there, the less time you have to do what you need to do. I felt really good tonight; I just didn't do the job."

Orioles pitching couldn't find a third out. The Yankees started a five-run fourth inning against Erickson with two outs and two strikes on Knoblauch, who singled.

The Yankees' next five hitters reached base and Erickson was gone before the inning ended. He allowed seven earned runs in 3 2/3 innings and has been hittable in both his starts.

"Right now," summed first baseman Will Clark, "there's weird stuff going on."

Miller left open the possibility of imminent change within the bullpen. Doug Johns and/or Jason Johnson could be imported from Rochester. For now, a modified rotation must stand on its own.

"Some are mistakes, I understand. But you can't make that many mistakes," said Miller.

Orosco managed only one out while allowing three earned runs, including a three-run homer to Paul O'Neill, who entered the game a career 0-for-16 against the ancient left-hander. Orosco's 21.60 ERA is pocked by 10 base runners and two home runs in 3 1/3 innings.

"It's a typical April. Hopefully, I won't lose my confidence and take it into May or June," Orosco said. "I couldn't hold onto the ball. It wasn't the cold, it was the ball. It felt slick. But I have no excuses. The umpire gives me a chance to blow on my hand and get a feel for the ball. I never did."

The Orioles never really had a feel for this game. Knoblauch, the Yankees' leadoff hitter, greeted Erickson with an opposite-field home run. Shortstop Derek Jeter followed with a double to center. O'Neill walked and Bernie Williams reached on a bizarre play when Clark fielded his tame grounder, faked a throw to second then flipped to Erickson covering. Erickson was still looking at second base and never saw the ball that bounced off his chest.

A double-play grounder scored Jeter for a 2-1 lead. Chili Davis then grounded to Cal Ripken, who muffed an attempted backhand that allowed O'Neill to score.

Erickson's traumatic fourth reinflated the rotation's ERA following three consecutive solid outings and again placed the bullpen in a stressed position. Erickson, who suffered a 6-3 loss against Tampa Bay April 8, has allowed 18 hits in 10 2/3 innings. The entire Yankees rotation entered the series having allowed 18 hits in 41 2/3 innings. Erickson managed only four ground ball outs and consistently left his pitches thigh-high and over the plate.

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