3-8 O's lose game, debate

Umpires, Blue Jays get last word, 7-4, for O's 5th loss in last 6

April 18, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- Frustration assumed a new form yesterday for the plummeting Orioles. Not only did they suffer a 7-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at SkyDome, manager Ray Miller almost argued for the cycle.

In a game where Miller contested calls at every base except first, the Orioles again fell victim to the profound pitching problems that now threaten to wreck their season before May. Unlike the past six games, when they scored first and often lost late-inning leads, the Orioles were contained by Blue Jays starter David Wells and a whipsaw bullpen.

The 3-8 Orioles haven't been this bad this early since 1988 when they established a major-league record with an 0-21 start. Yesterday's loss, their fifth in six games, assures them of the season's fourth consecutive dropped series, leaving them without a series win since last Sept. 11-13 against the Anaheim Angels.

Losses are piled high enough for talk of a "phase" to be replaced by suggestions of a trend. Fifth starter Doug Linton survived 6 1/3 innings yesterday, allowing five earned runs, and was considered a staff hero.

Before the game, Miller suggested Linton would work with a 100-pitch limit. Such plans evaporate easily when a rotation is going as badly as the Orioles'. Linton needed 91 pitches to get through five innings but returned to throw 18 more in the sixth. Even when Litton allowed a run, he was permitted to finish the inning and return for the seventh, eventually leaving with 115 pitches and a 5-2 deficit.

"I threw 115 pitches; 115 pitches should get me eight or nine innings instead of 6 1/3," Linton said.

"He battled. He went after them," complimented Miller, weary of explaining abbreviated starts. "We need innings from the starters. I can't use the bullpen to cover the fifth inning every day."

The pitching-poor Orioles have received only three quality starts -- six or more innings pitched with three or fewer earned runs allowed. Linton failed to qualify for a fourth but he did allow Miller to save much of his bullpen for Juan Guzman's start in today's series finale. Coupled with a day off tomorrow and Scott Erickson on the mound Tuesday, Miller's staff is at least teased with a return to order.

Following today's series finale, the Orioles look forward to 12 of their next 15 games at Camden Yards. All of them come against teams who suffered losing seasons in 1998.

"That's not a bad team over there," insisted Wells, three years removed from working between Erickson and Mike Mussina. "They've got a kick-[butt] lineup. They're going to be there before it's over."

Nice thought, Boomer. But the Orioles must find a rapid reversal to prevent a total meltdown. If the Orioles' pitching isn't going against them, then the umpiring is. Miller argued calls at second base, third base and home plate yesterday, gaining satisfaction no place.

A year after leading the league in ejections, Miller was left each time to turn and walk away.

The most painful call came in the fifth inning with the Orioles trailing, 3-0. With runners at first and second, two outs and Will Clark batting, center fielder Rich Amaral initiated a double steal. Replays showed that Amaral beat the throw to third base, but umpire Larry McCoy disagreed, calling the runner out as Clark stared disbelievingly from home plate.

"I guarantee you he was safe. There wasn't any doubt," Miller insisted. "His arm was on the bag when they tagged him."

Clark described the turning point as "huge." The decision to run was Amaral's, according to Miller, who defended the move.

"I have the right to hold him, but I didn't because I knew he'd be safe and he was," he said.

Miller previously contested a strike call on B. J. Surhoff in the fourth inning. Surhoff recoiled from a high pitch from Wells but plate umpire Chuck Meriwether ruled that Surhoff's action had taken his bat across the plate.

Meriwether, kneecapped by a Linton fastball the inning before, received no sympathy from the Orioles skipper afterward.

Miller's final dispute came in the eighth inning on a phantom force play at second base involving Surhoff. Miller appeared to argue correctly but had little chance of altering a call seen as routine by most crews.

"The guy was three feet off the bag with his foot in the air," said Miller, referring to Jays second baseman Pat Kelly.

None of it helped an apparent pitching mismatch. Linton (0-1) faced the Blue Jays and former Cy Young Award winner Pat Hentgen last Sunday and left with a 4-2 lead after five innings. The game ended as a 9-5 debacle, but Linton was buoyed by his first major-league start since 1996.

Yesterday's 6 1/3-inning start left the rotation with 57 1/3 innings in 11 starts, an average of less than 5 1/3 innings per game. The bullpen has covered 38 2/3 innings, few with distinction.

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.