O's wake-up call comes too late in 8-6 setback

Win streak ends at 5

first-inning problems continue for Guzman

July 19, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The cash-strapped, overmatched Montreal Expos had vacated Camden Yards, a most accommodating guest that will be missed. In their place last night were the New York Mets, with their assortment of big-ticket items and playoff aspirations.

Hardly a fair trade. And just what the Orioles didn't need as they attempted to hoist themselves from the bottom of the AL East standings.

Putting their five-game winning streak and renewed hopes on the line, the Orioles became tangled in another troublesome first inning by starter Juan Guzman and never got loose. His fourth pitch ended up deep in the left-field bleachers, setting the tone for an 8-6 loss to the Mets before 47,480 that was punctuated by a successful return to Baltimore by former closer Armando Benitez.

The defeat lowered the Orioles' interleague record to 10-6, still tied with Oakland for the AL's best mark, and prevented them from climbing over fourth-place Tampa Bay. The Mets are 11-5 in interleague games, 27-19 on the road and no longer considered a threat only to the NL's wild card.

The Orioles (39-52) sent nine batters to the plate in the seventh and scored four times, bringing up Harold Baines as the tying run and leaving a glimmer of hope. It brightened in the eighth when Jeff Conine delivered a pinch-hit homer, but soon was dashed, as the Mets improved to 53-40 and inched within four games of the first-place Atlanta Braves.

Benitez, who has taken over closer duties from injured left-hander John Franco, earned his seventh save with a scoreless ninth. Booed as his name was announced, he walked Brady Anderson on five pitches before striking out Jeff Reboulet, who had replaced shortstop Mike Bordick in the seventh when the Mets led 8-1.

With Anderson on second after a stolen base, Benitez got the last two outs, ending it with a fly ball from Albert Belle and pointing to his catcher while he nodded his head.

"[The booing] wasn't good, but I don't worry about that stuff," Benitez said. "I didn't pay attention to them.

"I never got nervous. Why? I've been in the playoffs and I don't need to worry. I'm a new person on a new team."

Guzman remains an early-inning enigma. He's been scored upon in the first in 12 of his 19 starts this season. Eleven first-inning runs have crossed in his last four starts alone.

Two of them came last night, including the 75th leadoff homer of Rickey Henderson's career. Henderson connected on a 2-1 pitch and sent it 413 feet to left field. He hung around home plate to admire its flight before taking such a wide turn he almost tripped over manager Ray Miller's foot in the Orioles' dugout.

Finally able to step in after Henderson's victory lap around the bases, Edgar Alfonzo slapped a double to left-center field and John Olerud walked. Robin Ventura singled to right with one out to load the bases, and Guzman walked Brian McRae on four pitches to force in a run.

With Ricky Bones warming in the bullpen, Matt Franco sent a tapper in front of the mound, where the defensively challenged Guzman started a double play that got him off the field after 26 pitches.

Such a pace wouldn't allow him to stay around for more than five innings. He gave up three runs in the fifth before leaving with the Mets in front, 5-1. Guzman, who might not have many starts left with the Orioles as the trade deadline approaches, allowed seven hits and walked five.

"We came in knowing they're a good hitting team," Mets manager Bobby Valentine said. "We wondered if six or seven runs was enough. It turned out to be just enough."

The Orioles had gotten a run back in the first inning against Mets starter Masato Yoshii, who won for the first time in a month. Anderson drew a leadoff walk, stole second and took third when catcher Mike Piazza's throw bounced into center field. B. J. Surhoff flew to left for his 75th RBI, 17 short of his career high.

In typical Guzman fashion, he got two quick outs to begin the second inning. Henderson walked, but was thrown out by catcher Charles Johnson on an attempted steal. Johnson, one of the club's few untouchables, has nailed 14 of the last 27 runners who have tested him.

Guzman toed disaster again in the third, allowing a two-out single to Piazza and walking Ventura. He retired McRae on a fly to right and breezed through the fourth.

Some aggressive base running by Albert Belle in the fourth positioned the Orioles to tie the game. Belle lined a single to center and stole second without a throw from Piazza, who bobbled the ball as he rose. He tagged and went to third on Baines' drive to deep center, and Will Clark walked to put runners on the corners for Ryan Minor.

Making his second start in place of injured Cal Ripken, Minor worked the count full after falling behind, 1-2. He fought off two low-90s fastballs, then swung through another for the second out -- and his second strikeout of the game. Another rookie, Jerry Hairston, bounced to third to end the threat.

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