Jays pick off leading Orioles, 7-6

Pitching slugged again as dozen hits, leads of 2-0, 5-3, 6-5 fall short

Miller hints of changes

`You can't defend walk'

5th loss with 4-plus runs

April 17, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- In a clubhouse silent except for whispered theories and explanations, Orioles manager Ray Miller is now forced to admit the obvious. One loss by his pitching-thin team now bleeds into another, forcing uncomfortable matchups while wasting a dangerous offense.

Evidence lay all about last night's 7-6 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays before 25,281 at SkyDome. Twelve hits and three leads were not enough to reverse a slide hastened by a queasy starting rotation and a bullpen with more experience than talent.

The sickly combination leaves the Orioles at 3-7 despite having scored first in their last six games.

A power-based offense averaging more than 10 hits per game cannot overcome a pitching staff that has allowed at least six runs in all but one game. Afterward, Miller projected his team should be at least 6-4 based on its offensive production. Just as quickly, he targeted his flaking pitching staff for imminent change.

"I do have all the patience in the world, but I do have to get more production out of the starting pitching. This club can do a lot of things, and I'm very proud of the offensive part of the club. I think we've battled our tails off. I don't want them to lose that," Miller said.

The Orioles lost their sixth consecutive game at SkyDome because starting pitcher Sidney Ponson and three relievers conspired to allow single runs in four straight innings, beginning with the fifth.

Long after a 2-0 first-inning lead disappeared, margins of 5-3 and 6-5 disappeared as walks in the seventh and eighth innings eventually became the Jays' tying and winning runs.

Ricky Bones (0-1) was forced to pay for the last week's sins. Despite Bones' two one-out walks in the eighth inning, Miller said he decided not to stir his bullpen because he needs reserves for today in support of Doug Linton.

"I wouldn't say [Bones stayed in] by necessity, but I do have a guy tomorrow I have to save somebody for," Miller said.

Miller has met individually with most of his position players and chaired a group meeting with his pitchers in New York.

Last night's collapse -- five walks resulted in three Blue Jays runs -- caused Miller to imply more drastic measures in the near future.

"You can't defend a walk," said Miller. "You can try to deter it after it happens but you can't defend it."

Blue Jays center fielder Shannon Stewart, who had scored the tying run the inning before after receiving a four-pitch walk from Mike Fetters, drove home Alex Gonzalez with a one-out single in the eighth.

As the Orioles batted in the top of the ninth, closer Mike Timlin and Heathcliff Slocumb belatedly warmed for the opportunity that never came.

"You either put a team away or you finish the game. Early in the season we haven't been able to do that yet," first baseman Will Clark said.

The Orioles are batting .293 and have scored in the first inning in their last six games. They've won two.

Harold Baines and Albert Belle contributed their 11th RBIs of the season and Brady Anderson led off the game with a monstrous home run to right field. Surhoff homered as well. Clark ran his hitting streak to 10 games with an RBI double.

"We're battling. You go out there, get a lead, and they tie it up. You go back out there, get a lead guys are going up there trying their tails off," Clark said. "I'm not saying the pitching staff's not doing that, but there are a lot of professionals on the other side trying to take it away from us. And they've been doing it."

The Orioles played on without slumping third baseman Cal Ripken, who was benched due to a manager's decision for the first time since 1982.

Rookie Willis Otanez replaced Ripken and committed the position's sixth error, which led to an unearned third-inning run against Ponson. The 22-year-old could legitimately claim progress even after becoming the latest Orioles starter unable to pitch into the sixth inning.

"This wasn't as good as I'd like, but it was better than it has been," said Ponson, who lasted just one inning in the Orioles' final exhibition, and 2 2/3 traumatic innings in an April 9 loss to the Blue Jays at Camden Yards.

Last night Ponson left after five innings with a 5-4 lead. It lasted three pitches. On the fourth, reliever Mike Fetters surrendered a blast to former Oriole Willie Greene, who turned on the 1-2 pitch for his first home run.

The back-and-forth extended into the seventh inning as pinch hitter Jeff Conine's two-out single scored Mike Bordick (3-for-5, .333) for a 6-5 lead. Like the two leads before it, the advantage passed quickly.

Fetters stoked the night's bullpen madness by walking the speedy Stewart on four pitches to begin the Jays' seventh.

Consecutive strikeouts by him and Jesse Orosco teased the Orioles with an escape. But Carlos Delgado singled off Orosco, who has struggled against left-handed hitters, and Tony Fernandez greeted Bones with a two-strike single that made the Orioles' third lead go away.

Orioles today

Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays

Site: SkyDome, Toronto

Time: 4: 05 p.m.

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: O's Doug Linton (0-0, 3.60) vs. Blue Jays' David Wells (2-0, 2.45)

It's not '88, but ...

The Orioles' 3-7 start matches their 1993 start as their worst after 10 games since they went 0-21 to begin 1988:

Year Start Final rec. Stand.

1989 5-5 87-75 -----------------2nd

1990 5-5 76-85 ------------------5th

1991 4-6 67-95 ----------------- 6th

1992 5-5 89-73 ------------------3rd

1993 3-7 85-77 ----------------t-3rd

1994 6-4 63-49 -----------------2nd

1995 4-6 71-73 ------------------3rd

1996 9-1 88-74 -----------------2nd*

1997 8-2 98-64 ------------------1st*

1998 8-2 79-83 ------------------4th

1999 3-7

*-Made playoffs

Pub Date: 4/17/99

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