O's rally falls short in 8-6 loss

Wacky, 4-run eighth not enough, as Royals survive late scare

K.C. ends 5-game skid

Closer Montgomery earns 300th save

August 26, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Two teams that entered a combined 38 games below .500 proved last night that they are still capable of producing drama, even if sprinkled with flashes of defensive slapstick, bullpen incompetence and tactical confusion. The Kansas City Royals ultimately outlasted the Orioles, 8-6, to break a five-game losing streak.

After rookie catcher Mike Figga's first major-league home run led off the ninth, the Orioles finally fell to Royals closer Jeff Montgomery. In return for one out, Montgomery became the 10th pitcher to save 300 games.

Before a Kauffman Stadium crowd of 12,033, the Royals scored on a mis-called inside-the-park home run. The Orioles used a novice manager's itchy trigger finger and two errors to assist their four-run eighth inning. And even after 25 hits and 14 runs, Orioles manager Ray Miller could not erase his displeasure over the game's unusual first run.

The Orioles rallied from Doug Linton's abbreviated start and a 6-1 deficit to put the tying run at first base in the eighth. Then after the Royals scratched Jesse Orosco and Scott Kamieniecki for two runs on a flare and an infield single, the Orioles brought Albert Belle to the plate as the potential go-ahead run in the ninth. Belle grounded out. Montgomery's historic out brought the Royals from the dugout as much in relief as celebration.

"We probably had no business winning that game, but we had our chances, so it hurts when you don't," Orosco said.

Linton was reaching for his first win since Sept. 11, 1996, while with the Royals. Just as importantly, he needed to give Miller at least six innings to avoid using long reliever Doug Johns, penciled as tomorrow's replacement starter for the injured Mike Mussina.

Linton suffered his third-inning damage on one of the season's most bizarre plays, when Johnny Damon hooked a fly ball that appeared to bound off the right-field foul pole and past outfielder Albert Belle. Damon, one of the league's fastest players, kept running as Belle gave chase.

Miller was upset that second baseman Delino DeShields did not pursue Damon's hit and called it the night's most disturbing twist.

"It is kind of a freak play. The ball bounced back down the line. There was no excuse. He didn't have any other place to be," Miller said.

"I thought it was foul," DeShields said. "I looked at the umpire and was waiting for a call. I thought he made a late call."

The ball actually struck the foul pole. Fans sitting near the post indicated where the ball had hit, but first base umpire Larry McCoy gave no signal since he believed the ball was in play. Belle saw the ball strike the foul pole for what should have been ruled a home run and initially jogged after it. Damon, assuming nothing, sprinted around the bases and beat Belle's throw for his first career inside-the-park home run.

"I just got caught. I guess I didn't realize it kicked out that far," DeShields said.

Much happened after the play as the Royals eventually tagged Linton for six runs and 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings. Twelve of the 24 hitters who faced Linton reached base. Pitching on three days' rest, his abbreviated appearance caused general manager Frank Wren and Miller to meet after the game on a probable roster move to address Friday's start.

Mussina will miss at least one start and probably two as he recovers from a severely bruised shoulder suffered last Sunday.

The Orioles put the tying run on base in the eighth and brought Belle to the plate in the ninth with a chance to take the lead. Still, DeShields' play stayed with Miller.

"It's one run. We didn't lose by a run," said DeShields.

Miller saw it differently, saying the play "sticks in my mind big." His perception of too little hustle was obvious.

"The infielder has got to trail the play. You can't stand there watching it," Miller said. "I told him that's kind of a freak play, but you've got no place else to be. If he [Belle] juggles or bobbles it, you've got to be the cutoff anyway. You should be heading that way anyway. Albert ran halfway back to first base to pick up the ball."

The Orioles forced a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning when designated hitter Harold Baines doubled and scored on Jeff Conine's one-out single. It would be the last time the Orioles put a runner into scoring position until the eighth.

With one out in the fourth the Royals put together a lightning three-run rally. After a walk to Mike Sweeney, Jermaine Dye singled. Joe Randa, fifth in the American League in hits, then punished a fastball for a three-run homer into the Orioles' bullpen and a 4-0 lead. Linton's leftover task was to hold the game long enough for the Orioles' middle relief.

Rookie center fielder Carlos Beltran scored Damon with a one-out single in the fifth. With two outs, Randa reappeared to give the Royals a 6-1 lead and to chase Linton with an RBI single. Johns, the leading candidate to pitch in Mussina's place, instead pitched 2 1/3 innings last night.

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