O's implode, Miller vents

Manager criticizes `dysfunctional' makeup after 4-3 loss to Tigers

August 29, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

DETROIT — DETROIT-- His team playing short, playing fatigued and playing badly, Orioles manager Ray Miller followed yesterday's 4-3 loss to the woebegone Detroit Tigers by criticizing his clubhouse's "dysfunctional" makeup and suggested the same shortages that trashed the team's 1998 season torment it to this day.

The 57-72 and free-falling Orioles suffered their fourth consecutive loss on what is now assured to be a losing road trip against the league's two worst teams, the Tigers and Kansas City Royals. This one came before a festive crowd of 42,377 at Tiger Stadium and included a breakout by the bottom of the Tigers' lineup, continued exposure to little-ball tactics, Damion Easley's decisive home run in the seventh inning and Miller's postgame state of the franchise.

"I've been in baseball my whole life. I'm a realist," Miller said. "I know what I've got. I know what the situation is."

None of it is pretty. Miller's unusually blunt assessments critiquing a lack of team speed, durable pitching and organizational depth framed a season that now threatens the Orioles with their first last-place finish since 1988 and second managerial switch since October 1997.

The last several days have been especially brutal for Miller. The Orioles have scored 22 runs on a 2-4 road trip and yesterday Miller was forced to manage with 12 position players and 13 pitchers, three of whom (Mike Mussina, Jim Corsi and Arthur Rhodes) were unable to perform.

Given the availability of only three bench players, Miller found himself unable to make more than one move in the final two innings when the Orioles scored once and twice stranded the tying run. His complaints about team speed and thin pitching date to last season.

"It's tough to play short here," said Miller. "And I don't think you'll ever be in a position where you can win and tear it up until you have 11 consistent pitchers, especially with an older club.

"The bats were dragging yesterday. We cut things down today [pregame] and the first five innings it didn't look like there was any pop or anything."

Miller expects help today. The club placed Corsi on the disabled list after the game and said they would promote a position player from Rochester -- believed to be either Jerry Hairston or Jesse Garcia -- in time for today's game.

Tigers starter Dave Mlicki (10-10) lasted 6 2/3 innings to win his career-high fifth straight decision. Scott Erickson (10-11) received credit for a complete game but suffered damage on shortstop Mike Bordick's fifth-inning error, consecutive bunt plays during a two-run third, and Easley's wall-scraper to right field in the seventh.

Down 2-0, the Orioles forced a 2-2 tie in the fifth on Brady Anderson's third single, a two-run, two-out liner. The Tigers reclaimed a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the inning when Bordick overran Brad Ausmus' one-out grounder which took a low hop off a patchwork infield, allowing Gabe Kapler to score from second base. Easley bumped the lead to two in the seventh when he drove an outside fastball just over the 6-foot fence in right field.

Miller found it necessary to use Rich Amaral to pinch run for designated hitter Derrick May in the eighth inning, then allow No. 9 hitter Jeff Reboulet to lead off the ninth despite a 3-for-42 funk. Amaral was stranded at third. Reboulet lined to left.

"Our [Nos.] 3, 4 and 5 aren't hitting [5-for-38 since Wednesday] and you can't pinch hit for 8 and 9, and 8 and 9 aren't doing anything. That's a lot of at-bats. If your ninth hitter goes 0-for-4, you're playing with 23 outs. If your eighth hitter is 0-for-4, you're playing with 19 outs," counted Miller.

Miller admitted wanting to pinch hit for both Reboulet and No. 8 hitter Charles Johnson. However, rookie third baseman Ryan Minor was benched with an 0-for-14 slump and rookie catcher Mike Figga carries a .216 on-base percentage. Of the unusual blend of more pitchers than position players, Miller added, "It's just dysfunctional and it's been that way since we lost the three starters last year."

The Orioles' beleaguered manager couldn't shift his focus from the bottom of the respective batting orders. His season-long rant about losing to opponents' lesser hitters gained steam yesterday when Easley, Kapler and Deivi Cruz scored all four and drove in two of the Tigers' runs.

The lower third of the Orioles' lineup went 2-for-12 with Reboulet's fifth-inning double.

"You've got to tie the game before you can win it. You try to do it," said Miller. "You hope you get a hit out of it and some production out of [Nos.] 8 and 9. We haven't had any production out of 8 and 9 and today we got a single and a double and scored two runs.

"They got a home run, a triple, two doubles, a single and a walk for four runs. That's the ballgame."

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