O's streak skids to halt

Royals win it in 12th on B. Johnson HR, 7-5, after O's lose 5-2 lead

Bullpen shuffle is costly

Ponson's strong 7 undone by Reyes' 8th

April 12, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A near-perfect start suffered its first troubling blemish last night. The Orioles lost a game in 12 innings to the Kansas City Royals that they should have won in nine while manager Mike Hargrove attempted to make sense out of a shuffled bullpen.

Four outs away from their sixth consecutive win, the 5-2 Orioles were undone when middle reliever Al Reyes surrendered a three-run homer to third baseman Joe Randa in the bottom of the eighth. The Orioles were beaten four innings later, 7-5, on Brian Johnson's one-out, two-run homer off Tim Worrell.

The slow-starting Worrell (1-1) may have taken the loss, but the game fell into doubt four innings earlier after Hargrove lifted starting pitcher Sidney Ponson for Reyes. A bullpen that had given almost seamless performances in the previous six games suddenly came undone, negating Ponson's positive showing, a lightning swing by Cal Ripken and three RBIs by center fielder Brady Anderson.

Before a Kauffman Stadium crowd of 13,080, the Royals scored six of their seven runs on three home runs. Johnson's walk-off blast was the second in as many days for the Royals (6-3), the early surprise within the AL Central. For Worrell it marked the third time in as many appearances -- against a total 21 hitters -- he has surrendered a home run.

"I think it would be too early to read too much into Tim Worrell giving up home runs," said Hargrove. "Obviously, if this continues very much longer, it concerns you a little bit. But it's not consuming me."

Any solid bullpen is a well-ordered thing. Hargrove seemed to install such order during spring training only to have it disrupted when his closer, Mike Timlin, could not start the season because of a torn abdominal muscle.

Reyes ordinarily would not have found himself in the situation. But without Timlin, Mike Trombley has become closer pro tem and the eighth inning is suddenly unsettled territory.

Reyes had saved his roster spot with a strong finishing kick to spring training. He entered last night with three scoreless appearances and apparently the trust of his manager.

"That was really the first time Al's given it up like that," Hargrove said. "I think it's more of a matchup-type inning than if Timlin was back closing. I'd be more inclined to turn it over no matter what to Trombley. We started to bring Trombley in there with two outs in the eighth inning and probably would have had the situation been different. I thought Reyes matched up well against Randa. He just happened to hang a pitch."

Hargrove had Trombley warm along with Reyes. Had the situation been different, Hargrove said he would have been more prone to bringing on Trombley to finish the eighth before starting the ninth. Instead, Trombley never came through the gate.

After a threat arose on Carlos Febles' double and a walk to Jermaine Dye, Reyes showed Randa a first-pitch changeup. Randa turned on the pitch for a home run that became the first deflating moment in the Orioles' season.

"I left a changeup up. When you make a mistake, you pay for it," Reyes said.

With the date of Timlin's return uncertain, Hargrove says his bullpen stepladder will now be determined almost batter-to-batter rather than inning-by-inning. Opportunities are to be had but adjustments also must be made.

"It's a long season. It's too early. You can't give up because of one pitch," Reyes said.

Ponson provided a soothing, seven-inning start that came without a strikeout but offered the first peek at the talent projected by many as a breakthrough candidate this season. Ponson left after 99 pitches -- a lower count than carried by Mike Mussina and Jose Mercedes in two previous starts. Within five hitters, the Royals had forced a 5-5 tie and Hargrove had been punished for keeping faith with a pitcher who trailed every hitter before Randa's home run.

For the first time this season, the Orioles played ahead for the first seven innings. For the first time this year, they buckled late.

A three-run second inning and Ponson's middle-inning efficiency allowed him to overcome a sixth-inning error as well as his recent string of indifferent appearances.

"It's up to them," Ponson said of his exit following a quality start. "Ninety-nine pitches in seven innings I did my job. It doesn't do any good to blow it out in April when it's a long season. You don't start going nine innings now. It's not time to push it."

Hargrove explained his motivation as leaving Ponson with "a good taste" after experiencing a tough spring training and eventful first start. Ponson faced little trouble of his own making after the second inning.

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