O's fall, go south vs. East

Yanks' Cone dominant in 7-4 win as O's keep struggling in division

1-4 skid has them 12 1/2 out

Johnson goes strong 7

bullpen yields 4-run 8th

June 27, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It was fun while it lasted. The Orioles enjoyed a two-week roll that carried them back into the conversation in the American League East, but the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox have reminded them in no uncertain terms where the real power resides in the division.

Right-hander David Cone dominated the Orioles lineup for eight innings and first baseman Tino Martinez drove in three runs as the Yankees scored a 7-4 victory yesterday and moved to the threshold of a devastating three-game sweep at Camden Yards.

The sellout crowd of 47,841 watched an encouraging seven-inning performance by Orioles starter Jason Johnson, but Cone one-upped him by giving up just one run on five hits to help the Yankees improve to 5-0 on the current road trip. The victory improved Cone's record to 8-3 and left the Orioles a distant 12 1/2 games out of first place in the division race.

"It's nice to sustain some momentum on the road," Cone said. "Now, we have a chance to close out a perfect road trip with El Duque [Orlando Hernandez] on the mound tomorrow."

Left fielder Shane Spencer got the Yankees started with his second home run of the series, but it has been Martinez who has been the backbone of the Yankees' offense in the first two games. He had four hits and two RBIs in Friday night's 9-8 victory, and followed up that performance with a home run and a two-run double in five trips yesterday.

The Orioles managed only a bases-empty homer by Cal Ripken through the first eight innings, but rallied for three runs in the ninth -- two on a pinch homer by Jeff Conine -- to make the final score a little less lopsided.

That didn't change anything. The Orioles now are 4-16 against AL East opponents this year and a combined 23-45 against the division since the beginning of the 1998 season. The message is clear. They are in the same division with the Yankees and Red Sox, but they aren't in the same league.

"Our offense compares to anybody's," said manager Ray Miller, "but today we got shut down by a good pitcher. Our starting pitcher kept us in the game. If the bullpen does its job "

Miller tailed off, not interested in recounting the four-run eighth inning against Ricky Bones (two hits, no outs) and Arthur Rhodes (two hits, two walks, one out) that broke the game open. The Orioles' semi-comeback softened the outcome, but it came against long man Todd Erdos. Once it looked like there was any possibility of a real threat, closer Mariano Rivera came on to record the final out and notch his 20th save.

B. J. Surhoff struck out to end the game, which saved Miller the trouble of explaining why Albert Belle had been removed from the game and Jeff Reboulet was on deck representing the tying run.

Yankees manager Joe Torre knows the numbers. He knows that his team has had little trouble with the Orioles, but he was quick to defend the lackluster divisional record of the team that was supposed to be his chief competition in the AL East.

"I don't know if that tells me anything," he said, "because when they play well they can beat anybody. Last year, the Angels beat up on us. Did that make them a better team? Sometimes, it's just where you are in the schedule when you're playing well. I don't put a lot of stock in that [the divisional record], except that it's very tough to make up ground when you don't beat teams in your division."

It won't be quite as tough if the Orioles can keep their rejuvenated starting rotation on track. Johnson turned in his best performance of the year, holding the Yankees scoreless through four innings before Spencer opened the fifth with a line drive into the left-field bleachers.

It was Spencer's fifth home run of the season and his second in a span of three at-bats. He homered off Mike Timlin in the ninth inning of Friday night's game to make the difference in a 9-8 Yankees victory.

Spencer has become something of a cult hero in New York. He spent nine years in the minor leagues before emerging as the club's super-sub during four stints at the major-league level last year. In just 27 regular-season games, he hit 10 home runs and had 27 RBIs, then contributed two homers in the Division Series against the Texas Rangers.

He has not maintained that pace in a sporadic role this season.

His fifth-inning home run was the first of three extra-base hits in the inning. Scott Brosius followed with a double over the head of Belle in right field and Chuck Knoblauch brought him home with a slicing double that Belle had to leave his feet to cut off.

Johnson got out of the fifth without further problem, but surrendered a one-out home run to Martinez (his 13th) in the sixth to give the Yankees a three-run lead.

It might as well have been a hundred the way Cone was throwing to that point. He hit Brady Anderson with a pitch to open the Orioles first and allowed a single and another hit batsmen in the second, but he was all but unhittable into the late innings.

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