Orioles lead, lose, 6-5

Erickson, relievers see 5-0 bulge in Texas turn to 15th loss in 17

Poor base running hurts

`When it will end, I've got no clue'

May 22, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Orioles went national last night. Now everyone realizes they are a pressing team. Repeating their well-worn and troubling story line, the Orioles turned a secure game into an unsettling 6-5 loss, creating additional doubt about a shell-shocked bullpen, a veteran lineup and a direction that the front office has suggested but never fully explained.

Cruising behind starter Scott Erickson with a 5-0 lead after five innings, the Orioles capped a 1-4 road trip by unraveling because of shoddy base running, out-of-control pitching and an offense that again did as little as possible with a lot. Only two games better than last season's team at the same juncture, the 17-25 Orioles were beaten for the eighth time after leading by at least three runs and watched their bullpen blow a save for the 12th time in 18 chances.

The Orioles officially lost their fourth straight one-run game after giving away three outs on the bases and helping Texas create at least two runs, including the game-winner, on walks. Losers of 15 of 17, they were officially beaten in the eighth inning on pinch hitter Frank Catalanotto's two-out, two-strike single off Mike Trombley.

Unofficially, the Orioles made themselves vulnerable with a series of base-running blunders and Erickson's stumbles in the sixth and seventh innings.

The Orioles have gone 22 days with only one win from a starting pitcher. Manager Mike Hargrove continues to wait for a hot hand to emerge from his bullpen. Last night, Trombley entered in the eighth inning to throw six consecutive strikes, a teaser split-fingered pitch for a ball, and a well-placed splitter that Catalanotto served into right field for the game-winner and his sixth pinch hit in 10 at-bats.

"I'd throw that pitch every time and take my chances," Trombley said. "He hit it. It's just one of those things."

"We were our own worst enemy tonight," Hargrove added in what has become a May refrain. "We didn't run the bases very well. Pretty conservatively, we should have scored two more runs. Would that have made a difference? At least it would have been 7-6. A lot of this is because of what has happened the last 2 1/2 weeks. Guys are going out to be aggressive, trying to take the bull by the horns. We've got to stay true to ourselves. When it will end, I've got no clue. But it will end."

How it will end is also unclear. The Orioles are approaching a point when decisions must be made. Is this a phase or something irreversible?

Due to no-trade clauses and bulky contracts, the Orioles are hamstrung in their pursuit of a possible renovation. Erickson, who next month will achieve status as a 10-and-5 player, thus allowing him veto power over any trade, represents the team's most marketable commodity. A decision is pending regarding whether to shop him to an injury-racked team such as Cleveland or to project him as a centerpiece for the balance of his five-year, $32 million contract.

Hargrove said the time for talk has passed. Relying on a veteran team's professionalism to end a tough time is the better tack.

"I haven't got a whole lot to say. There comes a point where you have to back off and let them do their job. They're veteran players. They'll do their job," he said.

A veteran clubhouse is reluctant to admit to pressing. However, uncharacteristic base-running blunders by B. J. Surhoff and Jeff Conine and another out lost at the plate with none out suggest a team trying to do more than is reasonable. As a result, the Orioles' 14 hits doubled the Rangers' output but gained them nothing.

Surhoff ran into outs at third base and home. Representing the go-ahead run, he attempted to take third on a left-side grounder and was thrown out to halt an eighth-inning rally.

A three-run first inning against Darren Oliver began with Mike Bordick's one-out home run and was followed by consecutive singles from Delino DeShields, Albert Belle and Conine. Belle created an unearned run when he went from first to third on Conine's base hit and drew a wild throw.

Consecutive doubles by Will Clark and Cal Ripken pushed the lead to 4-0 in the fourth inning. A little history helped the Orioles to a 5-0 lead in the fifth.

Before last night's appearance, all three of Clark's RBIs came April 9 against Detroit. Fifty at-bats, almost six weeks and his frustrating injury had followed until Clark drove a two-out RBI single to chase Oliver. Clark, the league leader in on-base percentage when injured May 2, reached in his first four plate appearances and jacked his average to .368 with hits in his first three at-bats.

"The only way to come out of a streak like this is to fight through it," Clark said. "We are at a point where Sammy [Perlozzo, coach] is trying to make something happen at third and you got guys making perfect throws in the air from 350 feet away. When you are winning, that just doesn't happen. You just have to keep battling."

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