O's claw back, fall back

Rally from 3-run hole is trumped in eighth by 2 Tigers HRs, 5-4

August 28, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

DETROIT -- The standings say the Orioles had won six of their past 10. Last night's effort against the Detroit Tigers suggested something far less flattering.

Once again lost against a struggling pitcher whose effectiveness outweighed his reputation, the Orioles stumbled to a 5-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers before an unusually large crowd of 37,600 at creaking Tiger Stadium. For a highlight, the Orioles could cite Cal Ripken's pre-game exchange of the lineup card or emergency starter Doug Johns surviving five innings with a defense that treated every bunt as if it were a live explosive. Left fielder B. J. Surhoff cranked his 25th home run, Derrick May his first.

Otherwise, this was typical of a disappointing season.

The Orioles' third consecutive loss followed Thursday's 6-0 loss to Bel Air native Jay Witasick. This time, Tigers starter Jeff Weaver (8-9) carried a one-hit bid through six innings before hanging on for his second win since May 27.

"He handled our lefties the first time through. That's what kept him in the ballgame," manager Ray Miller said. "The third time, they got him."

After playing shabbily enough to fall behind 3-0, the Orioles hit well enough to force a 3-3 game on home runs by Surhoff and May. The lead lasted one hitter.

After Miller's removal of Arthur Rhodes, who contributed 2 1/3 innings in his first appearance since suffering a bruised finger Sunday, Tigers second baseman Damion Easley yanked previously effective reliever Al Reyes' first pitch into the left-field bleachers for the eighth-inning game-breaker. Four pitches later, right fielder Gabe Kapler lined a second home run off Reyes (0-2) for a two-run lead.

It was the fifth time this season and the second time in four games against the Orioles that the Tigers have mashed back-to-back home runs.

Once 35-25 against kindred teams with losing records, the Orioles have now dropped three straight to the league's two worst clubs. Given yesterday's trade of designated hitter Harold Baines and the promotion of rookie left-handed reliever B. J. Ryan, the Orioles now carry 13 pitchers, leaving them woefully vulnerable to ill-fitting late-inning matchups.

Tigers closer Todd Jones survived a problematic ninth inning for his 20th save after Brady Anderson's leadoff double and Jones' error on Delino DeShields' drag bunt put the tying run on with no one out. Anderson scored and DeShields eventually reached third, but Jeff Conine popped to second base to end the game.

Johns, the first left-hander to start for the Orioles this season, actually embraced his emergency start as an opportunity. He left the game trailing 3-0 only because of lacking support.

"I did what I had to do," he said. "I gave up three runs."

Miller told Johns on Thursday night that if he was not needed in relief, he would start last night. Johns did not appear but arrived at the stadium yesterday still unsure whether he was going to start. It wasn't until pitching coach Bruce Kison approached him at about 4 p.m. that Johns believed the assignment.

Whatever his take, Johns handled the role comfortably. He left the game having thrown 11 1/3 innings since last Saturday but insisted he could have continued.

"That's kind of been my role all year: to come into a game and go as long as I can," Johns said. "Even if we don't win that day, maybe we'll have some fresh arms for the next day."

Able to escape a pair of early threats, Johns surrendered three runs in the fifth inning that included Kapler's leadoff double, a pair of untouched bunt singles, a sacrifice fly and a bad-hop grounder that recorded a knockdown of third baseman Ryan Minor.

Complicated by the presence of a rookie infielder and a pitcher consumed by a different role, the inning underscored the Orioles' nagging deficiencies this season.

Too often their infielders have been found out of position and outfielders guilty of taking bad angles after drives into the gap. The crimes don't affect the club's American League-best fielding percentage, but they feed a perception of this team as uninspired or fundamentally lacking.

Johns was victimized this time. In a predictable bunt situation with none out and a runner at second, No. 9 hitter Deivi Cruz's firm sacrifice bunt between the mound and third base went unattended when Minor saw Johns break and retreated toward third base.

When Johns slipped on transplanted sod near the mound, any chance for an out was lost.

"The third baseman has to make a snap judgment on whether the pitcher can get the ball," Miller said. "If he does, he breaks back. Otherwise, he has to come get the ball. The ball was bunted more toward the line. The third baseman went toward the bag and Johns didn't go toward the ball."

Kimera Bartee broke a scoreless game with a clean single, then Brad Ausmus dropped a line-hugging bunt that Minor and Johns could only watch stay fair. Dean Palmer's sacrifice fly bumped the lead to 2-0 before Juan Encarnacion bad-hopped a ball off Minor's jaw, scoring Bartee for a three-run lead.

Orioles today

Opponent: At Detroit

Time: 5: 05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 54, 50/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: O's Scott Erickson (10-10, 5.31) vs. Tigers' Dave Mlicki (9-10, 4.82)

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