Wild year gets wilder in O's loss

Timlin's poor throw to wrong base fuels Texas' 4-run 9th, 8-7

`Got to be better than that'

Warmed up for 5th time, Bones yields 3-run shot

May 23, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The impression revealed itself during yesterday's disastrous ninth inning as Cal Ripken flapped helplessly after Mike Timlin's throw, which was headed in the general direction of Turf Valley: these Orioles have gone from bad to cursed.

Two days after B. J. Surhoff was doubled off base on a foul popout, manager Ray Miller confessed to witnessing another first as his closer combined a mental lapse with an indecisive throwing error that inflamed a four-run inning and a season-high crowd of 47,915 at Camden Yards.

Having spent eight innings scraping for something positive against the Texas Rangers, the Orioles instead suffered their most inexplicable loss of a tattered season. A madcap ninth that included four runs but only two hits engulfed Timlin, "up-and-down" reliever Ricky Bones and Miller, convinced for the umpteenth time he has seen it all in a 15-27 season. What might have provided inspiration instead backhanded the Orioles to their ninth loss in 12 games, this time by 8-7.

The Rangers' Juan Gonzalez capped the rally with a three-run homer off Bones, who entered after warming for the fifth time and six innings after he first stirred.

Miller, who by now should walk past casinos, called the debacle "pretty much a crying shame."

The Orioles have lost three times when leading after eight innings, eight of 10 times when involved in a one-run game, nine times when they have generated 10 or more hits, 11 times after scoring first and 18 times when scoring at least four runs. Three of their last six losses have stemmed from leads blown after the seventh inning.

The latest bullpen madness included Timlin's fourth loss and another blown save by an overheated, irritated relief corps. Supposedly healthy, setup man Arthur Rhodes never got up because he had thrown four times in the bullpen the previous two nights. Left-hander Jesse Orosco again foundered against a left-handed hitter. Seldom-seen Mike Fetters left agitated when removed after getting one out with one pitch.

Despite outhitting the Rangers 14-7, the Orioles were forced to scrap with 12 singles, a double by Mike Bordick and Delino DeShields' bases-empty home run in the ninth. They grabbed a 4-3 lead in the seventh inning with a fourth two-out RBI, this time on three consecutive singles by Jeff Conine, Ripken and DeShields. Conine enjoyed a four-hit day, Ripken extended his hitting streak to 11 games and DeShields continued his offensive awakening after a sluggish April. Receiving a rare start in right field, Rich Amaral reached base four times and produced three singles.

And none of it mattered.

Their recent record masks how well the Orioles have hit. Yesterday they also played strong defense as Brady Anderson made a running catch on the center-field warning track to rob Tom Goodwin in the second inning, then made a leaping grab against the left-center-field fence to take extra bases from Juan Gonzalez in the third. DeShields also made a sliding stop in the third inning.

Ripken hadn't received a chance entering the ninth inning with the Orioles leading 6-4. As it happened, Timlin didn't give him a chance, either.

The third pitcher during a complicated eighth inning in which Miller employed Fetters and Orosco before him, Timlin allowed a leadoff double to Roberto Kelly before walking Mark McLemore, the potential tying run, on four pitches. Miller went to the mound to remind Timlin to be aggressive, to trust his fielders by risking a pitch over the plate. He also tried to calm a pitcher he later claimed "had lost control on the mound" due to frustration with plate umpire Joe Brinkman's strike zone.

"He needs to get back to being aggressive," said Miller. "Throw it in the middle of the plate and if they hit the ball, they hit the ball. We can't do anything about people walking. We just have to throw the ball low and in the middle and get the ground ball."

Just as Miller hoped, Rangers left fielder Rusty Greer followed with a one-hopper to the mound. What followed changed the game.

Timlin's proper play was to throw to Bordick covering second base to initiate a 6-4-3 double play. But because the ball was hit to his right, Timlin spied Ripken covering at third. Reflexively Timlin made a play on the lead runner, Kelly. When he "babied" the throw, it sailed wide to Ripken's left.

Yesterday was Cal Ripken Growth Poster Day but he would've needed another two feet to have a shot at Timlin's throw, which allowed Kelly to score, McLemore to take third and Greer to reach with the potential lead run.

"He got the ground ball and threw it to third base, and I've never seen that before in my life," Miller said. "But if you're going to do it, make a good throw."

Miller had seen enough. He returned to the mound, motioning for Bones, who had hurriedly warmed for the fifth time after McLemore's walk. On Bones' fourth pitch, Gonzalez drilled a three-run blast to right-center field. Whatever air of anticipation remained in the park quickly evaporated.

"I should have gotten out of that inning; I just pitched really bad," Timlin said. "I just didn't do the job and you know I'm so disappointed in myself, it's unbelievable."

Said Miller: "We've got to be better than that."

The bullpen continues to bait Miller. The club has promoted starter Jason Johnson and Rocky Coppinger from Rochester in the last five days, but alternatives are thinning as Miller's blood pressure rises.

"Unfortunately, this isn't varsity and junior varsity. We don't have a taxi team. The guys that are here are paid to do a job. They're going to have to do better. They're going to have to get themselves in gear and throw the ball over the plate."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Texas Rangers

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 8: 05

TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Rangers' Mike Morgan (6-3, 4.89) vs. O's Mike Mussina (6-1, 4.68)

Tickets: About 7,000 remain Pub Date: 5/23/99

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