O's: Over but for the shouting

Livid Miller rages after A's rally in ninth for 11-10 win

`Pitched like 12-year-olds'

Orioles allow 14 walks

8-run seventh is wasted

April 26, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

If any doubt remained that the Orioles' 3-week-old season lay in ruin, the aftermath of yesterday's 11-10 loss to the small-market, small-talent Oakland Athletics provided irrefutable evidence.

The question isn't where to begin but where it will end.

Infuriated by his team's inability to hold a 10-6 lead after seven innings, manager Ray Miller questioned his team's character and its courage following a violent venting that left his office wall splattered with food and his right hand likely fractured.

Booed before a Camden Yards crowd of 45,675, the Orioles were left with a 4-14 record, their eighth loss in nine games and the increasing likelihood that Miller will be ousted before this 12-game homestand concludes.

With his hand wrapped in an ice-filled towel, Miller greeted reporters about 20 minutes after the loss. Despite a prolonged "cooling off" period, his voice quivered with anger.

"If you've got any questions, if you want a story, go out in the clubhouse. They're the ones making all the money. Have them explain to you how they did and how they performed in front of 47,000 people," he said.

Moments later several reporters filed back into Miller's office. While the manager was more composed, the assessment of his clubhouse remained consistent.

"You pay that much money to come see a game you expect to see professionals play. Today, some people weren't professional," he said.

The Orioles lost because of one of the loosest pitching performances in franchise history, culminating in Tony Phillips' three-run homer off closer Mike Timlin with no one out in the ninth inning. Phillips' blast came in what the Orioles believed an obvious bunt situation, so obvious that Timlin fed the switch-hitter a pitch that found the middle of the plate.

The home run negated a potentially uplifting surge in which the Orioles came back from a 6-0, second-inning deficit by scoring 10 unanswered runs. Until Timlin's collapse, they were in line for the seventh-largest comeback in franchise history and their most dramatic since August 1997. Their carelessness negated an eight-run seventh inning off five A's pitchers and a potential turnaround in the negative momentum that has engulfed an $84 million clubhouse.

Miller ranted over a franchise record-tying 14 walks, including six by starting pitcher Rocky Coppinger in 1 1/3 innings. Of the 14 walks, six eventually scored.

"We walked 14 people today. We pitched like 12-year-olds," Miller said.

Miller questioned his players' courage more than once. Having repeatedly reminded reporters of his refusal to publicly rip his team, the manager could not contain frustration that has steadily built since the start of the season.

"Obviously, I'm frustrated. I hope everybody else out there is," Miller said while holding his injured right hand beneath his desk. "Sometimes it basically boils down to courage on the field. When you get a chance to play in the big leagues, you're well-compensated for playing. You work hard to get here. But somewhere along the line a player has to stand up and speak for himself. I'm getting pretty tired of doing it.

"I've been open. I've been candid. I've been taking pretty good hits and I stand behind myself and my coaching staff today. I think we had everybody in pretty good position today. The players just failed."

How Miller's outburst plays internally is open for conjecture. However, despite public endorsements by majority owner Peter Angelos and general manager Frank Wren, Miller's ouster has been broached within the organization. Considerations include timing, whether a permanent or interim successor should be named, and whether the issue should be tabled until after the reciprocal May 3 exhibition against a Cuban all-star team at Camden Yards.

"If it happens, it happens. It's not Ray's fault. But as a manager, when you control a ballclub, you become responsible," said catcher Lenny Webster.

"It's been said before and I really believe that a manager is as good as his players. We're not playing very well so the manager gets the negative label pinned on him. Like I said, the players have to get it done. He can't throw the ball; he can't swing the bat. All he can do is make moves. He did what he did today to put us in a position to win."

Miller conceded that he will be held accountable for the team's record, but he couldn't contain his irritation over a roster reluctant to address its role in the second-worst start in franchise history.

"To be honest, I feel sorry for my [coaching] staff. They've worked their tails off. They put in 15 hours a day just like I do. We arrange special times for people. What it all boils down to is courage," Miller restated.

Timlin made no effort to dodge his role, saying, "I take this game on me." Guilty of his first blown save after four conversions, he also said the problems engulfing this team require weeks, not days, to repair.

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