Bunt snafu stirs up O's clubhouse

Players are disturbed by unusual tactics in Friday night's loss

`We have to execute'

Ripken's home run in 9th overshadowed

May 16, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas -- After a night in which they twice rallied before receiving a ninth-inning home run from Cal Ripken, the Orioles arrived at The Ballpark yesterday still stunned by how a potentially uplifting moment against the Texas Rangers could be overwhelmed by another Texas-sized dose of clubhouse intrigue.

Worse than the 7-6 loss was how it happened.

Former Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro yanked a two-run, two-out double off reliever Arthur Rhodes (1-2) to break a hard-fought 4-4 tie in the seventh inning. The hit, which came only four days after former second baseman Roberto Alomar beat the Orioles with a seventh-inning sacrifice fly in Cleveland, sent the Orioles on their way to a five-game losing streak.

But it was the Orioles' response in the eighth inning that threatened to ignite the clubhouse.

Trailing 6-4 with no outs and runners at first and second, manager Ray Miller ordered center fielder Brady Anderson to bunt on three consecutive pitches. Not only did the move fail, but the Orioles failed to score despite removing catcher Charles Johnson for a pinch runner, rankling one of the club's hottest hitters and causing bewilderment up and down the bench.

The removal of Johnson gave Tommy Davis his first major-league appearance. Davis quickly became involved in a freak play in which Rangers right fielder Roberto Kelly scored from second base on an infield single. Davis' spot in the order then came up with two outs and the tying run aboard in the ninth. He grounded out to second.

"It's weird. It's strange," said Palmeiro. "It doesn't seem normal. I played with most of those guys for a long time. We went through a lot, a lot of great times and some bad times. When you play with a team for so long, it's hard to play against them. It's hard to face Arthur Rhodes, a guy I was close with. When I'm facing him, he's trying to beat me and I'm trying to beat him. But it's not the easiest thing to have to do."

Palmeiro is accomplished at payback. After being forced to leave the Rangers as a free agent after the '92 season, he ripped his former team for a .322 average the next five years.

"There's really no extra incentive. I try to do the best I can whether it's against Oakland or Baltimore. I'm not trying to do anything special," he said.

Apparently, neither are the Orioles.

What began as a promising 10-game road trip ends today with their clubhouse again angered by unconventional tactics. Several players have insisted that the team's recent five-game win streak coincided with Miller holding to a pledge to "let the players play." But confrontations with division leaders Cleveland and Texas have led to more frequent managerial moves, and head-scratching.

"What's new?" said one player afterward.

Rather than talk about Ripken's momentous two-run homer off Rangers closer John Wetteland -- Ripken's first homer since Sept. 15 -- or two comebacks against Rangers starter Mark Clark, the players rapidly left the clubhouse. Anderson showered, dressed and had little to say as he swept out the door.

"I got the sign to bunt three times. I tried to get it down," he said.

With assistant general manager Bruce Manno listening, Miller defended the move, citing his team's chronic failures with runners on base. The Orioles stranded 12, including seven in scoring position.

"We have to execute and we didn't execute. When you are not scoring you have to execute and get the bunt down," said Miller.

Anderson, however, hasn't been part of the recent problem. He had reached base in 11 of his last 14 plate appearances. He singled, doubled, walked and reached on an error before Friday's fifth appearance. Thursday he had been stopped a double shy of becoming the third Oriole to hit for the cycle. Among his hits was a two-run single against Mike Venafro.

"We had first and second and no outs," Miller said. "Brady needed to bunt. Maybe I should have let him swing away, 0-2, but he had two pitches to get the ball down and he couldn't. We're trying to score those two runs."

Anderson futilely stabbed at Venafro's first two pitches then appeared astonished that third-base coach Sam Perlozzo gave him the sign a third time. A conference midway to the coaching box confirmed it. Anderson then fouled a third pitch, striking out. He stalked back to the dugout, threw his bat and glared at his manager.

"I just wanted to make sure the bunt was still on," Anderson said of his conversation with Perlozzo.

Miller insists he does not envision Anderson as a platoon player despite his struggles against left-handed pitching. But Friday's move struck many players as a vote of no-confidence in the center fielder.

"Brady's got to get the bunt down but you don't do that," said one player.

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