Mistake kicks off another O's loss

Coppinger gopher ball all Twins need, 7-2

May 02, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

By Rocky Coppinger's estimation, he made one bad pitch yesterday, and that cost him the game. Not known is whether he'll get one more chance.

Clinging to a spot in the rotation that could slip from his grasp later this week, Coppinger was unable to give the Orioles their first consecutive wins since September. He allowed five runs in 5 1/3 innings, a performance sharp enough to slice about 10 points off his ERA, but not to prevent a 7-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins before 44,054 at Camden Yards.

All of the Twins' runs came with two outs, including two off reliever Doug Linton in the eighth. They were more than Brad Radke needed. The staff ace was 0-3 against the Orioles last season and never had won in Baltimore, but scattered eight hits yesterday for Minnesota's first complete game of the season.

"It's kind of tough when you're a kid trying to get yourself straightened out and facing a 20-game winner, the team's best pitcher. You don't have a whole lot of breathing room," said Orioles manager Ray Miller.

At least Coppinger didn't gag this time. He lasted longer than his first start April 25 -- when he walked six in 1 1/3 innings -- but had to be pulled after allowing a one-out single to Ron Coomer and walking Doug Mientkiewicz. Linton came in and got a double play.

Nobody figured out how to get Coomer, who went 4-for-4. His three-run homer off Coppinger in the third inning staked the Twins to a 5-0 lead and doomed the Orioles (6-17) to their 14th loss in 18 games. It also put on hold the chance to win their first series since Sept. 11-13, when they swept Anaheim at Camden Yards.

Coppinger stared into the Orioles' dugout with his hands on his hips as Coomer rounded the bases. He had hoped to escape with only one run allowed, on a two-out single by Matt Lawton that scored Todd Walker. Instead, he needed 22 pitches to get through the inning, wishing he could have one back.

"A fastball, first pitch. I was trying to throw it away. It got up and that's a pitch Coomer can hit consistently," said Coppinger, who bore the weight of a 33.75 ERA before yesterday's start.

"I get to leave this clubhouse knowing it was only one bad pitch. That's just how this game is. I broke some bats today and they flared them. That's just baseball, and it's frustrating, especially when you want to do so well. I just went out there and tried to do my best. It was short today, but you just hope you keep getting the opportunities to go out there."

But will he, rather than return to Triple-A Rochester? "I don't see why not," he said. "My first time was horrible. Today was not good, but better. I'm just taking those little strides."

Here's where he could be tripped: Scott Kamieniecki continues his rehab with tomorrow's start in the exhibition game against a Cuban all-star team. If Kamieniecki, on the disabled list with a strained hamstring, proves healthy enough to be activated, he could displace Coppinger.

"We'll have to wait and see how Kammy comes out of Monday and make a decision then, whether we think Kammy needs to throw some more," Miller said.

Coppinger received a stern lecture from catcher Charles Johnson in the first inning after walking the leadoff hitter, Walker, on four pitches and falling behind 2-0 to Chad Allen. He rebounded to strike out Allen and retired Lawton on a fly ball. Walker then was thrown out trying to steal, and Coppinger pumped his fist as he ran to the dugout.

From there, he would be victimized more by bad breaks than poor pitches. Coomer was credited with a one-out double in the second when shortstop Mike Bordick allowed a popup to fall at the edge of the mound, pulling up at the last instant after losing it in the sun. After Mientkiewicz struck out, catcher Terry Steinbach grounded a single up the middle for a 1-0 lead.

"Rocky looked up and couldn't see it, [Willis] Otanez hadn't seen it yet, and Bordy came flying in, looked to see where the mound was, and looked back up and didn't see it," Miller said. "It's the pitcher's duty to direct traffic there, but he didn't know where the ball was."

Coppinger dashed for cover as his infielders converged. "I looked up and the sun was right there. I just got out of the way because I didn't want to get hit on the top of the head," he said.

The Orioles put at least one runner on base against Radke in every inning except two, but only broke through in the third. One rally was squelched in the fourth when Jeff Conine bunted into a force at third base after the Orioles, down 5-2, had put two on with nobody out.

They opened the third with three straight hits, including a single to right by Brady Anderson that scored Otanez. Poised to make up more ground, they got nothing else after Bordick grounded into the first of his two double plays.

Bordick hit .351 (13-for-37) in the first nine games, but is batting .114 (5-for-44) over the last 14. He's 1-for-20 since producing a two-run single in the seventh inning of the April 25 game.

The offensive brownout has reached other portions of the lineup. Albert Belle singled twice yesterday, but is 7-for-44 (.159) in his last 14 games. Conine, starting for the 10th time in place of injured first baseman Will Clark, is hitless in his last 19 at-bats. Otanez is 6-for-29 (.206) since his average peaked at .346 on April 21. Johnson had been 3-for-27 (.111) in his last nine games before going 3-for-3 yesterday.

"I kept my off-speed pitches down today and they were swinging at them and it kept them off-balance," Radke said.

"It's no slouch to come here and beat these guys like that. They're kind of struggling a little bit, but they can do some damage anytime."

Can they ever win another series? They get the opportunity today with Mike Mussina pitching.

Orioles today

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 1: 35 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Twins' Eric Milton (0-1, 5.28) vs. O's Mike Mussina (3-1, 5.90)

Tickets: About 5,000 remain

Pub Date: 5/02/99

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