Rallying Royals do it again

Lax O's defense, 'pen let K.C. escape 6-0 hole in walk-off 7-6 win

April 13, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After assuring themselves that their remade bullpen contains more teeth and fewer holes than a year ago, the Orioles were reminded again last night its margin for error remains frightfully small.

It's the 2000 season. And no lead is safe.

One night after fumbling a 5-2 lead in the eighth inning, the Orioles deserted starter Pat Rapp and watched a 6-0 seventh-inning lead become a jarring 7-6 walk-off loss to the Kansas City Royals. No. 9 hitter Rey Sanchez beat closer Mike Trombley with a game-ending three-run homer -- his 12th home run in 2,798 major-league at-bats -- after the Orioles right-hander started the at-bat with three consecutive balls.

The Royals manufactured a four-run seventh inning around a home run, two walks and two singles, including a critical flare with nobody out that right fielder Albert Belle allowed to fall after second baseman Delino DeShields pulled up.

Lost amid the collapse was Cal Ripken's 2,996th career hit, a seventh-inning RBI single that pushed the Orioles' lead to 6-0.

Instead of celebrating Ripken's approaching milestone, the Orioles were left to contemplate a flashback to last season.

"We've played well enough to be 7-1. In a couple of losses we've been our own worst enemy," said manager Mike Hargrove.

"We've caught a Royals team that's hot and did the same thing to the [Minnesota] Twins when they were in town. But, yeah, I think we've played well enough to be 7-1."

Last night represented the third straight game the Royals have won on a home run. Tuesday night they forced an eighth-inning tie on Joe Randa's home run off Al Reyes before winning in the 12th against Tim Worrell. Last night, they transformed two walks into runs, took advantage of an extra out allowed by confusion in right field and beat Trombley when he was asked to finish both the eighth and ninth innings.

The problems are exacerbated by the absence of closer Mike Timlin, sidelined by a torn abdominal muscle. Hargrove is loath to use his closer in the eighth inning but found himself with few other options last night. Trombley's loss only deepens concern.

"You can't be perfect every night," said Hargrove. "If I had my druthers I'd rather we won last night and tonight. We're only eight games into the season. I'm sure it's frustrating. We should have won this game. We should have won no ifs, ands or buts."

Rapp carried a three-hitter into the seventh inning. At that point the Royals had produced only two flyouts. However, a leadoff home run by Jermaine Dye, a walk and a single pushed Hargrove to his bullpen.

"They just weren't getting good swings off me," said Rapp. "As long as I kept mixing it up and keeping it off the middle of the plate."

Left-hander Buddy Groom entered a 6-1 game. He left it 6-4. Former Orioles catcher Gregg Zaun took the inning's pivotal swing when he lofted a broken-bat flare to shallow right field. Belle screamed for the ball but DeShields continued retreating. Fearing a collision, Belle pulled up and the ball dropped cleanly, loading the bases with no one out.

Groom walked home a run, then allowed consecutive sacrifice fly balls. Belle made a strong running catch of one; however, Zaun's untouched flare arguably led to two extra runs.

"Buddy comes in and gets three fly balls and a walk and it's four runs. What else can you say?" said Rapp.

Asked about plays that haven't been made in this series, Hargrove said, "I think that's a huge part of it -- those that weren't made for one reason or another. You watch these guys flare a ball into short right field -- and the Royals are catching a lot of breaks now -- but the fact remains we allowed them to take advantage of those breaks."

First baseman Will Clark thought blame more universal. "You cannot score six, seven or nine runs without walks being involved," he said. "You give up 15 or 18 hits, then you're just getting lit up. But walks are different."

Trombley admitted he pitched poorly to Zaun, who rallied from a 1-2 hole to lead off the ninth with a walk. He then surrendered a line drive to Mark Quinn that center fielder Brady Anderson failed to catch up to for a double. Trombley then faced Sanchez, fed him three balls and a strike. At that point, Royals manager Tony Muser considered having the light-hitting Sanchez take. He thought again and was rewarded with a game-winning shot off the top of the left-field fence.

"I felt good. I thought I had pretty good stuff. In the eighth I had a good split. But you've got to get ahead to use it," said Trombley, who finished the eighth inning with back-to-back strikeouts.

The combination of catcher Charles Johnson and shortstop Mike Bordick put the Orioles ahead 5-0 before Ripken's RBI. Somehow overlooked for Player of the Week recognition, Johnson's two-run double in the fourth inning left him with a league-high 14 RBIs. Bordick followed Johnson with a single that extended his season-long hitting streak to eight games and scored Johnson for a 3-0 lead.

The Orioles pressed their lead in the sixth inning, again with Johnson serving as catalyst.

Royals starter Mac Suzuki hit Clark with one out and Johnson pulled a ball toward the left-field corner for his second double in as many at-bats.

Like Johnson, Bordick already has bettered last year's April production. His and Johnson's combined 24 RBIs represent almost half the team's total. Anderson, DeShields, B. J. Surhoff and Belle -- the lineup's top half -- have a combined 21 RBIs. It should have been enough. It wasn't. And suddenly an unshakable start appears queasy.

Orioles today

Opponent: Kansas City Royals

Site: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.

Time: 2: 05 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: O's Mike Mussina (0-1, 2.87) vs. Royals' Jeff Suppan (1-0, 4.91)

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