O's find shutout split tastes delicious

McElroy's first start spurs 2-0 retribution before 4-0 defeat

September 21, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The end of a two-day food fight with the Oakland Athletics over scheduling, a career moment for their left-handed bridge man and a bit of retribution on a day when their ballpark was likened to "a morgue."

All things considered, yesterday was a good day for the Orioles.

Career reliever Chuck McElroy (2-0) started for the first time in his nomadic career and the Orioles played spoilers for the first time in a disappointing homestand, shutting down the A's, 2-0, in the first half of yesterday's split doubleheader at Camden Yards. The A's answered with their own shutout, 4-0, in the night game. But when in a pennant chase, breaking even hurts.

"I looked at it as just another outing. `Let's get it on,'" said McElroy, whose previous 40 outings left him with a 5.50 ERA before yesterday's five shutout innings mesmerized a team that had won 12 of its last 15 games and outscored opponents 41-12 in its previous four games.

Catcher Brook Fordyce's two-run, two-strike home run off left-hander Barry Zito's fourth-inning changeup was all the Orioles needed to end a five-game losing streak while winning their first home game this month.

Despite the Cleveland Indians' sweep of a doubleheader in Boston, the A's finished yesterday only a half-game out of the American League wild-card lead thanks to three bases-empty home runs off Jose Mercedes (12-7) in the first five innings of the second game.

A's manager Art Howe slept Tuesday night on the wrong side of the bed. After his team's walk-filled 7-4 win that was sandwiched around two rain delays totaling more than five hours, Howe ripped the decision by Major League Baseball and the players association not to begin the second game of a split doubleheader after 10:30 p.m. on an almost unplayable field.

The A's suspected the Orioles of pressing for yesterday's split doubleheader as a gate-saving device. However, the Orioles' hands appeared clean.

Howe was not convinced. Usually reserved, the A's skipper blistered Camden Yards as "a morgue" for its paltry attendance. The official count (or tickets sold) was announced as 32,539 but a crowd more typical of a high school all-star game showed up for the afternoon game. "It was an embarrassment for Major League Baseball," Howe said, "but not an excuse for us."

McElroy and four relievers became the reason for the Orioles' win. Projected by Hargrove to last only four innings, McElroy needed only 75 pitches to clear five innings.

Three hits and one walk was all the A's could do against a pitcher whose previous 603 major-league appearances had come in relief. McElroy, on his eighth team in his 12th major-league season, established a major-league record for most relief outings before making his first start.

"I looked at it as just another outing and I went out and had fun," said McElroy. "You never know what might happen when you ... go into it what that kind of attitude."

Role change, anyone?

"Chuck had 600-some relief appearances before his first start. I dare say it'll be 600 more appearances before his next start," Hargrove quipped.

McElroy embraced the assignment as more of an adventure than a late-season chore. He entertained an interview up to 45 minutes before first pitch and asked Hargrove for the lineup card when done as proof of a once-in-a-career moment.

"The biggest difference was he saw more right-handed hitters than he would in a normal relief appearance," said Fordyce, credited by McElroy for making his adjustment an easy one. "He handled it real well."

Hargrove began mixing and matching relievers after five innings. Luis Rivera, 22, made his Baltimore debut seven weeks after the Orioles acquired him from the Atlanta Braves in a July 31 deal that sent left fielder B. J. Surhoff and reliever Gabe Molina to the National League.

Rivera arrived at Triple-A Rochester with shoulder tendinitis, a fact unknown to the Orioles when they finalized the transaction 45 minutes before the trade deadline. Rivera made three abbreviated starts before being promoted Sept. 5. He threw in four bullpen sessions in front of Hargrove, pitching coach Sammy Ellis and vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift before being summoned for yesterday's four hitters. His fastball topped at 93, 4 mph shy of its reputation with the Braves.

"He's got magic in his arm," gushed Hargrove. "The ball comes out of his hand real easy."

Hargrove had considered giving Rivera a two-inning audition, but he reconsidered with left-handed-hitting Matt Stairs approaching with two on and two outs in the sixth.

Guilty of three bases-loaded walks Tuesday night, B. J. Ryan returned for two shutout innings yesterday. McElroy all but credited him for his win. After Mike Trombley secured the last out of the eighth inning, rookie Ryan Kohlmeier struck out the side in the ninth for his 11th save and first in two weeks.

"It's tough when you face a different guy every inning after the fifth," said Howe.

Howe was not alone in his grousing Tuesday night. The Orioles left the park furious that the umpiring crew had waited for their lead to evaporate before suspending play a second time. Last night they left with a semblance of satisfaction.

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