O's, Rapp get closer in 2-1 loss

Losing streak hits 8, but pitching, alert play brighten endless road

Mariners' 2-run 1st enough

After meeting, `we came to win today'

June 25, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE - Previously foundering starting pitcher Pat Rapp offered an improvisational performance and the Orioles' lineup presented a sharper look, but the results were maddeningly the same yesterday at Safeco Field - a 2-1 loss to the Seattle Mariners that extended the team's longest losing streak this season to eight games and re-raised the question of what, if anything, can elevate a sinking season.

Instead of being beaten early by their own starting pitching, the Orioles were undone this time by Mariners left-hander John Halama (7-3), the Mariners' two-run first inning and a diving eighth-inning stop by Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez that turned a potentially pivotal single into an inning-ending double play.

The game wasn't a wipeout like the five preceding losses on this 0-6 road trip. But it was a reminder of how difficult it has become for the Orioles to win.

Rapp (4-5) struck out eight and didn't allow a hit in the last five innings of his seven-inning appearance. The Orioles committed no errors or base-running gaffes. They outhit the Mariners, 7-4. And it got them nothing, except a tie with the winning Tampa Bay Devil Rays for last place in the American League East.

Looking for sunshine within an overcast month, manager Mike Hargrove noted the team's sharper look after Friday night's post-game meeting.

"At the tail end of an eight-game losing streak it's very easy to start feeling sorry for yourself, throw your hands up and call it in. Our guys did not do that," Hargrove said. "They all stepped up today. And Pat Rapp probably was most evident."

Rapp has won only once since April 25 and entered yesterday after pitching a combined 5 1/3 innings in his two previous starts in which the Orioles scored 11 and 12 runs.

Rapp was burned by three first-inning hits - a ground leadoff single past first baseman Will Clark, Stan Javier's opposite-field double just inside the left-field line and a two-out, first-pitch RBI double by John Olerud to ruin Rapp's career 0-for-12 dominance against him.

"That's the first hit he ever got off me. I don't know how he was looking at a first-pitch curveball away. But he was. That's frustrating," Rapp said.

The rally erased the Orioles' run from the top of the inning generated by Jeff Conine's two-out single. The Orioles have scored first in every game on this road trip before losing.

Rapp altered his delivery without prompting while warming in the bullpen before the game. He carried it into the game and received positive feedback after the first inning. Instead of holding his hands still throughout his delivery, he brought them along in his delivery. His reward was consistent late action on his cut fastball and a season-high eight strikeouts.

"I've had the bases loaded every inning my last couple times out there. I just tried to change a few things. I moved my hands a little bit. I tried a different step back. I just tried some different stuff. It worked today; it might not work next week," Rapp said.

The Orioles need it to. Entering yesterday, the rotation was 1-7 with a 10.19 ERA in its last 10 starts. During the previous seven losses of the streak, the Orioles had surrendered 16 home runs.

"The last three or four times out, I had been terrible. It's just been back and forth, back and forth. There have been times this year when we've had good pitching and no hitting and others when we've had good hitting and no pitching. There haven't been many times when we've had both," Rapp said. "There have been times at home we've gelled together on the same day but we've hardly ever done it on the road."

Now 12 games below .500, the Orioles fell to 10-30 on the road. They have lost 13 of their past 14 away from Camden Yards.

"When you get in a spell like this, it's certainly not fun," Hargrove said. "The way to make it more un-fun is to go out and play with your head somewhere else. We didn't do that today. We came and played to win today. We came up short."

But Hargrove remained an optimist. "We still have 90 games left," he said. "There's still time for a lot of good things to happen to this ballclub. If we continue to play and focus like we did today, good things will happen. By no stretch of the imagination are we done."

Rapp threw 137 pitches - second-most by an Orioles starter this season - but didn't allow a hit over his last five innings. Hargrove offered to relieve him after six innings but Rapp resisted.

"I got through the fourth inning. The way I've been pitching lately - us scoring a million runs and I've been giving them up - I just wanted to get somebody out one time," Rapp said. "He wanted to take me out after six innings. I told him, 'I'm finally throwing strikes. I want to pitch.' It took me about a month to throw strong. I didn't want to come out."

"That shouldn't be out of the ordinary for him," Hargrove said. "We needed a well-pitched game and Pat gave it to us in spades. We just weren't able to give him any run support."

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