O's caught off guard by Angels, 6-4

Surhoff's blunder on base paths kills 8th-inning threat

`It's inexcusable mistake'

J. Johnson loses debut

O's fall 12 below .500

May 21, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Orioles could have rationalized this one. They could have complained about a questionable umpiring decision early in the game and taken solace in the apparent discovery of a new, effective fifth starter.

That would have taken the sting out of last night's 6-4 loss to the Anaheim Angels, if not for a critical base-running error by B. J. Surhoff that ended a comeback attempt in the eighth inning.

With the bases loaded and one out, Surhoff was doubled up on a pop foul near home plate when he lost track of the outs and sprinted home from third base. Instead of red-hot Cal Ripken getting a chance to bring the Orioles from behind, the inning ended with Surhoff holding his head in disbelief.

No one plays the game harder. No one has a better reputation for good heads-up play. And, of course, no one would take a mistake like that harder than Surhoff, who earlier had brought the Orioles from behind with a run-scoring single in the fifth inning.

Much of the crowd of 38,388 booed when Surhoff came back out of the dugout to take his position, but the fans in the bleachers greeted him with a consoling cheer when he arrived in left field.

"It's an inexcusable mistake on my part," said a clearly downcast Surhoff. "I somehow convinced myself that there were two outs, so on the pop-up, I went home. That just can't happen. It's terribly disappointing. It's nobody's fault but mine."

Surhoff has been one of the few bright spots in a disappointing season. He had two hits last night and is second in the American League with 59, but that was temporarily obscured by one inexplicable lapse of judgment.

"You feel bad for a guy who plays the game as hard as he does," said third base coach Sam Perlozzo, who tried to call Surhoff back to third. "B. J. could play for 20 more years and you wouldn't see him do that again."

There was no guarantee that the Orioles would have scored if he had stayed at third base, but with the club dropping 12 games under .500, every opportunity to win becomes magnified.

"He's one of the smartest players in the game and he just made a terrible mental mistake," manager Ray Miller said of Surhoff. "We certainly didn't need that to happen. Anyone else, you'd want to strangle, but not him."

The Orioles lost for the eighth time in 10 games and dropped two of three to the Angels.

The only consolation was the solid performance of newly promoted fifth starter Jason Johnson, who performed much better than his pitching line -- six innings, five runs -- might indicate, striking out six and walking one.

"The upside is, the kid looked like he threw pretty good," Miller said. "I saw some ugly swings on some of his breaking pitches. He gave up some runs, but he came and showed us a major-league arm and some major-league stuff."

Johnson, 25, gave up four runs in the second inning, but might have gotten off scot-free if not for a disputed call by umpire Tim Welke that cost the Orioles a crucial double play.

Garret Anderson opened the inning with a double off the right-field scoreboard and Johnson complicated the situation by hitting Todd Greene on the elbow with a pitch, but the threat would have been minimized if the Orioles had turned a double play on an ensuing grounder by minor-league call-up Chris Prichett.

Delino DeShields fielded the ball and flipped it to Mike Bordick at second, but Welke ruled that Bordick had crossed the bag before he caught the ball and threw in time to first.

"I think the umpire just got caught by surprise," Miller said. "I think he didn't expect DeShields to make that throw."

Miller and Bordick argued the call, but they might as well have tried to reset the clock on the Bromo-Seltzer Tower. The play stood and the inning deteriorated.

Johnson wasn't entirely blameless. He walked Troy Glaus to load the bases and gave up a two-out single to Andy Sheets to give the Angels a 2-0 lead. The third run scored on a throwing error by catcher Charles Johnson and the final run came in on a single by Darin Erstad.

The runs all were earned, but not necessarily deserved. Johnson, to his credit, collected himself and pitched effectively into the late innings to give the Orioles a chance to come back.

And they did, with Ripken leading the way.

He doubled home Harold Baines in the second inning and then sparked a three-run rally in the fifth with his third home run in the seven games since returning from the disabled list.

Ripken has hit safely in every game since he rejoined the starting lineup in Texas and owns a nine-game hitting streak that dates back to before his sore lower back forced him onto the DL for the first time in his career.

His home run off Angels starter Tim Belcher in the fifth landed in the Orioles' bullpen and cut the Angels' lead to two runs. Two outs later, Brady Anderson walked and scored on an opposite-field double by Bordick, before Surhoff tied the game with a single up the middle.

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