Twins deal Mercedes quick loss

Five-run first drops O's, 6-3, as semi-walk turns into 3-run HR

0-4, pitcher finishes game

DeShields HRs twice, but Mientkiewicz does too

Ripken hits one

April 28, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS - The scene played out again last night for Jose Mercedes minus the game of cooler toss and finger flip. A pitcher who dominated last season's second half with precise command and by varying speeds once more collapsed early due to overthrowing and a mental lapse.

The Minnesota Twins beat Mercedes and the Orioles, 6-3, last night before 24,369 at the Metrodome because Mercedes couldn't avoid a five-run first inning. If not for surrendering a three-run homer to left-handed-hitting Doug Mientkiewicz with two outs, first base open and a less dangerous right-handed hitter on deck, Mercedes and his team might have survived.

Instead, Mercedes (0-4) is left with a winless April in which he's lost as many games as last season's second half. The Orioles fell to 10-13 and still await a second win from the final three spots in their starting rotation.

"That one inning is killing me and killing the team when I pitch," Mercedes said. "In the first inning I wasn't in control. The three-run home run definitely took us out of the game."

"Ninety-five percent of pitchers rely more on location than overpowering velocity," Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley said. "When he gets in trouble, it's because he loses command. That happened in the first inning tonight."

The AL Central-leading Twins raked Mercedes for nine hits, including two home runs worth four RBIs by Mientkiewicz. Once considered the Orioles' possible Opening Day starter, Mercedes finds himself incapable of avoiding big innings. Last night's damage came so quickly that the Orioles' 1-0 lead lasted just three Twins hitters, Wiley made a mound visit before Mercedes could get an out and the Twins' eight total bases in the inning were only a triple shy of the cycle.

Mercedes depends on changing speeds on his fastball, but last night he was punished for repeatedly overthrowing.

"When you overthrow, the ball does whatever the ball wants to do instead of what you want it to do," Mercedes said.

After the five-run first, Mercedes' only mistake was another fastball that drifted over the plate for a bases-empty home run by Mientkiewicz in the sixth inning.

The Orioles' offense came entirely from home runs. Delino DeShields homered in his first two at-bats against Twins starter Joe Mays (3-1). The topic of recent trade speculation, DeShields enjoyed his first multi-homer game since 1997 and now rides a seven-game hitting streak.

Mays otherwise frustrated a lineup that awoke against bottom-feeders Tampa Bay and Detroit on the first two stops of a nine-game road trip. Mays finished with four perfect innings. His only sins besides DeShields' home runs were a generously scored infield single by Cal Ripken and Jeff Conine's base hit immediately following a third-inning DeShields home run.

Ripken provided the night's most intriguing moment in the ninth inning. Two nights after he homered in Detroit, Ripken turned on a 3-1 pitch for a bases-empty home run. Ripken continues to lead the team with 10 RBIs while last night represented his first multi-hit game of the season.

Since the Orioles play only one series in each AL Central city this season, Ripken is being recognized as making something of a farewell tour and got an ovation from the Metrodome crowd.

A leadoff walk, a single, a sliced RBI double down the left-field line by Matt Lawton and a bloop single to center field by Corey Koskie gave the Twins a 2-0 lead before their first out. Mercedes then managed two outs before Mientkiewicz unloaded.

Starting his second game at catcher, Mike Kinkade visited the mound just before Mientkiewicz's two-out at-bat with runners at second and third. His message was simple: pitch around Mientkiewicz, Kinkade's U.S. Olympic teammate last summer, and attack right-handed hitter Tom Prince.

Hargrove was willing to intentionally walk Mientkiewicz if he didn't offer at either of Mercedes' first two pitches. When Kinkade called for a low, outside fastball, Mercedes pulled the pitch, leaving it high and over the plate. Mientkiewicz crushed it.

"It's not his stuff," said Hargrove, still irritated by the lapse. "It's his approach."

"Everybody knows they have a right-handed guy next. I know it. I tried to go away with that particular pitch. I don't want him to pull it at all. Then I throw it right down the middle. It's another thing I need to work on and stop," Mercedes said.

The night's most bizarre feat was Mercedes surviving for a complete game despite his first-inning troubles. He was credited with preserving a well-worn bullpen and actually saw his ERA fall from 8.34 to 7.92. Otherwise, his frustration continued. "Whenever we lose, we lose. The goal is to stay in the game and get the win. When we lose, no matter how good you pitch, no one's satisfied," Mercedes said.

Mercedes' troubles this season began in Boston April 12 when he followed three perfect innings with a six-run fourth. He also has surrendered innings of three, three and five runs. On a team that usually scores its runs by the single, that is a fatal flaw.

"If you take five innings away, I might be 4-0," he said.

But Mercedes' record is just the opposite. Resembling a pitcher who has too often forgotten what carried him into this season.

Mercedes led AL pitchers with 11 wins after last season's All-Star break. In that span, he allowed more than one home run and as many as nine hits in a game only once.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Chuck McElroy (0-1, 6.92) vs. Twins' Mark Redman (1-2, 5.75)

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