Loss caps Royal pain of series

Rallying to tie it 5-5, Orioles see K.C. again rise in last inning, 6-5

Mussina struggles early

Hargrove on sweep: `We should have won 2'

April 14, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Orioles took a different road only to reach the same destination yesterday. After rallying from a five-run deficit against a $23 million pest, their bullpen was once again beaten on the Kansas City Royals' last swing.

Threatened with an early blowout behind slow-starting ace Mike Mussina, the Orioles scrambled for a 5-5 tie then watched a third reliever in as many days trudge from the field in the ninth carrying a loss. This time rookie left-hander B. J. Ryan held the game for just three hitters before a looping single left the Orioles' reshuffled bullpen with 10 earned runs in 6 2/3 innings for the series and a 6-5 loss.

Prodded by a local broadcast type's question, it was enough to drive Mike Hargrove to sarcasm for the first time as Orioles manager.

"We decided to get way behind today and try it a different way," he cracked. (The game was the first this season in which the Orioles never led.)

On Tuesday, Al Reyes and Tim Worrell were victimized when a 5-2 lead became a crushing 12-inning, 7-5 loss. Mike Trombley took his turn in the woodshed Wednesday when he was unable to cover the eighth and ninth innings of what was left of a 6-0 lead in a 7-6 loss.

Yesterday, Ryan was awarded the ninth inning in a tie game and lost when Rey Sanchez scored on Carlos Beltran's one-out flare in front of left fielder B. J. Surhoff.

The common denominator to each disheartening loss was the absence of closer Mike Timlin, on the disabled list until at least Monday with a torn abdominal muscle. Hargrove reconstructed his staff only to be slapped down each night, twice on walk-off homers and yesterday by a pair of singles, a strategic walk and a bunt.

"We were in all three games and realistically should have won two of three," Hargrove said. "We didn't and the Royals are hot right now."

The series was similar to last June's three-game sweep in Toronto. All those losses came on the final swing, two on home runs.

That catastrophe confirmed the Orioles' decline and drove manager Ray Miller to outrage. Hargrove remained more measured.

"I don't think it's too much to say" that Timlin's presence would have turned at least two games, Hargrove said. "Mike's our closer. Having him as closer allows everybody to go back into the roles they normally pitch in. You don't have to run Buddy Groom out there for three innings or push a Pat Rapp another inning than you want to."

"You've just got to suck it up and take your lumps," said Ryan. " The guys did a great job of getting back into it. The last inning caught up to us."

The Royals' three-game sweep of the Orioles was their first at Kauffman Stadium since August 1988. It also completed a 7-1 homestand for the upstart Royals and left them at 8-3, their best start since 1978. Now 5-4 after beginning the road trip tied for the game's best record, the Orioles packed for Minnesota wondering if the past three days represented a lost series or a broader indictment.

"It's just three games," said Ryan. "We've got a lot of guys who want the ball. It was a tough series. They've got guys swinging the bat well. You tip your cap and come out tomorrow."

Ryan's wasn't the only loss. First baseman Will Clark left the game with back spasms after four innings. The condition was described as "day-to-day" but left Clark's right arm limp 45 minutes after the game.

Cal Ripken went hitless in four at-bats, with two strikeouts, and continues his quest for 3,000 hits.

Mussina, who entered the season with a 22-8 April record, remains winless in three starts despite a 3.80 ERA. He's pitched into the eighth inning in each start but has been sabotaged either by a lack of run support or his own sluggish beginnings.

Yesterday's start represented a 105-pitch grind as the Royals jumped on Mussina for three runs in the first inning and a fourth in the second inning. With the Royals ahead 1-0 only four batters into the game, first baseman Mike Sweeney highlighted the first inning with a 444-foot blast.

"The first two innings were a struggle to get the ball over," said Mussina, who described the Sweeney home run pitch as "me just trying to throw a strike."

The two-run homer was Sweeney's league-leading sixth of the season and the Royals' sixth of the series.

A leadoff walk to Mark Quinn in the second led to a run when Wednesday night's hero, shortstop Rey Sanchez, cracked the first of two doubles and leadoff hitter Johnny Damon lifted a sacrifice fly to shallow center field. Quinn successfully tested Brady Anderson, whose throw sailed to the first base side of the plate.

"It looked to me like it wasn't until the third or fourth inning until Moose found something that was working for him," said Hargrove.

Mussina's start represented a continuation of his April 8 troubles, when he surrendered 10 hits in eight innings.

Hargrove and pitching coach Sammy Ellis approached Mussina about the possibility of returning for the ninth. Mussina suggested a reliever be summoned.

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