O's 'pen springs another leak

May 06, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

NEW YORK — This should be about Delino DeShields, who went 4-for-5 last night, drove in the go-ahead run and scored the insurance run - heh, heh - in the eighth inning.

This should be about how the Orioles rallied from 3-0 and 5-3 deficits against the first-place New York Yankees, then rallied one more time after blowing an 8-5 lead.

But this is about none of those things.

No, this is about another Orioles' defeat at Yankee Stadium, which means it is being frantically re-written after a walk-off Yankees victory, and that the names won't be changed to protect the innocent.

Mostly, this is about a closer struggling to cement his role for the second time in two seasons, a manager who yanked him last night in the middle of a save situation, and the one Orioles' issue that won't go away.

It's the bullpen. It's always the bullpen.

And Mike Timlin appears to be losing the faith of Mike Hargrove, just as he lost the faith of Ray Miller last season.

Timlin was clearly irritated over being removed in the ninth inning of the Orioles' 12-10 loss to the Yankees after allowing a homer by Paul O'Neill and sharp single by Bernie Williams.

Hargrove pulled him for rookie B.J. Ryan, preferring to use a left-hander against the left-handed-hitting Tino Martinez. Ryan's first career save opportunity came with none out, the tying run at first and a crowd of 42,224 howling.

And a fine baptism he received.

Ryan walked Martinez on a 3-2 count, setting up a bunt situation with runners on first and second. The Orioles put on the wheel play to defend against the bunt, rotating their infielders to get a possible out at third base.

"Am I bunting?" Posada asked third base coach Willie Randolph.

"As of now, you're not," Randolph replied. "Just get a good ball to hit and drive it up the middle."

Posada got a good ball to hit, all right.

Got it, and crushed it into the left-field stands for a game-winning three-run homer - the Yankees' second of the game off the beleaguered Orioles' bullpen.

The crack of Posada's bat made such a loud sound, Randolph said, "it was like a bomb going off." The Yankees' Derek Jeter said Posada "could have killed" Cal Ripken charging from third base.

Ripken survived.

Will the Orioles?

So many times in this team's recent history, they have faced a crossroads at Yankee Stadium. So many times, they've left with their season shattered.

As Earl Weaver used to say, momentum is the next day's starting pitcher. The Orioles' chances today don't appear good with Pat Rapp facing Roger Clemens. But then, who would have thought Scott Erickson would have outlasted Orlando Hernandez in Erickson's 2000 debut?

Right now, Hargrove needs to reassure Timlin that he remains confident in the closer's ability to preserve leads, or make him part of the late-inning rotation with Ryan and Mike Trombley. There's no way Timlin can feel secure after the way he was handled last night, but Hargrove was damned if he did and damned if he didn't.

"Mike is a good pitcher," Hargrove said. "He has better stuff than most people on this staff. Mike will be OK. We've just got to keep running him out there."

Perhaps Hargrove should have allowed Ryan to start the inning against the left-handed O'Neill. But Timlin is his closer. And once Timlin was in the game, it should have been his to lose, especially when Hargrove's other option was a rookie.

The problem with that argument is that Timlin started O'Neill 0-2, then lost an eight-pitch battle that ended with O'Neill's home run into the right-field stands. Hargrove made the change after Williams lined Timlin's next pitch into right field. At that point, Ryan had only thrown four warm-up pitches in the ninth. He had also warmed the previous inning.

Of course, the Orioles might have won the game earlier if not for a previous bullpen meltdown in the seventh, this one occurring when Williams hit a three-run homer off left-hander Buddy Groom to tie the score, 8-8.

How many big homers has Williams hit against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium? He won the Jeffrey Maier game with an 11th-inning shot off Randy Myers in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS. He hit a three-run blow that led Armando Benitez to drill Tino Martinez and trigger a brawl in '98. And then came last night.

The crowd, smelling middle-relief blood, began stirring at the start of the seventh, chanting, "Let's go, Yankees." Groom had not allowed a hit in 12 at-bats against left-handed hitters this season. But Ricky Ledee ended that streak with a leadoff single, and O'Neill made it 2-for-2 one out later.

O'Neill is Groom's personal nemesis - he is now 11-for-15 lifetime off the veteran reliever. But the switch-hitting Williams supplied his usual dramatics batting from the right side. His four RBIs last night gave him 31 for the season, moving him past Mike Bordick for the American League lead.

As it turned out, his homer was only the prelude.

Timlin sat at his locker afterward, facing the media as he always does after a difficult outing. There was an edge in his voice as he spoke, referring to Hargrove's decision as "his move to make."

"I'll take what I did, analyze it and be done with it," Timlin said. "I'll do what I can and come back tomorrow. I know I'll pitch tomorrow. I know I can pitch tomorrow. I'll be there."

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