Long end to long O's trip: Mets homer in 10th, 8-7

4-0, 6-3 leads fail to hold up as relief woes seal 3-7 journey

June 09, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - The game ended like so many others, with an Orioles reliever walking disgustedly off the mound and the opposing team high-fiving at home plate.

This time, it wasn't unforgivable. The bullpen didn't blow a huge lead. The New York Mets just outlasted the Orioles, 8-7, in 10 innings at Shea Stadium. But when Mets shortstop Kurt Abbott launched a one-out walkoff home run off journeyman Jose Mercedes, it still added to the accumulated frustration of a relief corps in crisis.

Left-hander Buddy Groom gave up a game-tying single in the sixth, but pitched well enough to keep the game under control until right-handed setup man Mike Trombley came on in the eighth. Trombley allowed a tie-breaking home run to Mets outfielder Jay Payton, but the Orioles recovered and pushed the game into extra innings.

Enter Mercedes, who thought he threw a good slider to Abbott, but ended up on the hook for the Orioles' seventh loss in eight games and the end to a 3-7 road trip.

"I thought it was a good pitch," Mercedes said. "He just hit it. What are you going to do?"

Maybe it was just a garden variety extra-inning loss, but it still left the club searching for answers to a desperate bullpen situation. Manager Mike Hargrove had his most dependable guys in at crunch time, but the rest of the middle relief corps has been so undependable that he had to go to Groom about an inning earlier than usual to bail out starter Jason Johnson.

Trombley wasn't outside of his role, but he was pitching without any margin for error. Mercedes was just a stopgap on the way to closer Mike Timlin. He just didn't get there.

Though the cumulative relief performance last night was not egregious, it still seems likely that there will be a roster move -- perhaps as soon as today-- to change the chemistry in the middle innings.

The Mets also had to go deep into their bullpen using six relievers and getting to hard-throwing former Oriole Armando Benitez in a save situation in the ninth, but pinch-hitter Will Clark tied the game with a sacrifice fly.

Mets manager Bobby Valentine simply had more viable options. Left-hander Dennis Cook followed Benitez and retired the Orioles in the 10th to set himself up for his fifth victory of the year.

Hargrove had seven relievers to choose from, but after some of the ugly performances on Wednesday night, he only felt comfortable using Groom and Trombley in the key middle relief situations.

"Our options were limited tonight," Hargrove said succinctly.

It seems as if the Orioles' options have been limited all week. The series was a logistical nightmare. The rainout on Tuesday forced them to play on their only day off in three weeks, and a shortage of hotel rooms in the New York area forced them to commute from Baltimore for the rain-delayed final game of a 10-game road trip.

But they seemed no worse for their whereabouts when they arrived back at Shea Stadium late yesterday afternoon. The club went through its normal pre-game routine and jumped on top of the Mets in the early innings.

Third baseman Cal Ripken, one of the players who was able to keep his hotel room in New York on Wednesday night, led off the second inning with his 12th home run.

The Orioles squandered a bases-loaded opportunity in the third but scored three times in the fourth to stake Johnson to a seemingly comfortable lead. Brady Anderson poked a two-out double down the left-field line to score B. J. Surhoff, and Mike Bordick followed with another shot into the left-field seats for his 11th home run and team-leading 41st and 42nd RBIs.

Johnson, who had the option of remaining in a hotel in New York on Wednesday night but chose to travel with the team, looked very sharp at the outset. He gave up just one hit through the first three innings and appeared to be cruising when the Orioles treated him to the four-run cushion. But one bad pitch in the fourth would tighten the game up considerably.

He retired the first two batters in the inning before Mike Piazza banged a comebacker off his glove, and Robin Ventura doubled to right to bring up former Oriole Todd Zeile, who launched a three-run homer over the 396 sign in right-center.

Fortunately for Johnson, the Orioles' offensive attack was still in motion. Three consecutive one-out singles in the fifth led to two more runs. Jeff Conine started the rally with a base hit to left; Ripken singled to right, and Surhoff poked a base hit through the right side of the infield to score Conine in a close play at the plate. Catcher Charles Johnson drove home Ripken from third with a sacrifice fly.

Unfortunately for Johnson, the Mets weren't through, either. He walked Ventura to open the sixth and paid for it when Zeile followed with a single and Jay Payton drove a long double to right-center. Abbott followed with a sacrifice fly, and Hargrove had little choice but to bring on Groom about an inning earlier than he would have liked.

Groom got pinch hitter Benny Agbayani to fly to center, but rookie leadoff man Jason Tyner lined a base hit to right to tie the game.

Trombley fell behind Payton 2-0 in the count to open the eighth and then threw a fastball right down the middle. He didn't make any excuses.

"I didn't want to throw it there," he said. "I got behind, and I didn't want to walk the leadoff guy, but you don't want to put it right out over the plate.

It wasn't a bullpen blowup, but it was another discouraging turn-around for an Orioles team that can't afford to cede much more ground to the other contenders in the American League East.

"We Played well enough to win and we scored enough runs to win tonight," Hargrove said. "We just gave up the long ball at the wrong time."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Philadelphia Phillies

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters:Phillies' Randy Wolf (5-3, 3.82) vs. Orioles' Pat Rapp (4-3, 4.66)

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