O's hit bump before takeoff

Rangers rally in finale, 6-3, unpack O's streak prior to rugged trip

Towers' start `tremendous'

4-run Texas 8th ends 8-3 homestand

Seattle Oakland, N.Y. loom

May 29, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Orioles apparently weren't cut out for life at sea level. They spent just one day at .500 before singing the subterranean homesick blues again with a 6-3 loss in the final game of their longest homestand of the season.

The Texas Rangers batted around in the eighth inning to score four runs after spoiling a fairly impressive starting debut by rookie pitcher Josh Towers. Relievers Chad Paronto and Chuck McElroy weren't exactly up to their eyeballs in line drives, but the struggling Rangers found enough holes in the infield to send 10 batters to the plate and put an end to the Orioles' five-game winning streak.

Now, the resurgent Orioles face the daunting task of trying to continue their battle for credibility in the American League East during a tough nine-game road trip that touches both coasts.

The club left after yesterday's Memorial Day series finale for Seattle, where the streaking Mariners have turned the AL West race into a runaway. The next stop will be Oakland, where the Athletics finally are playing up to their preseason press clippings.

If that isn't tough enough, the trip concludes with the second visit of the year to New York for a three-game set against the defending world champion Yankees.

Where will the Orioles be - competitively - when they get back to Camden Yards 11 days from now?

"It's not going to be an easy road trip," manager Mike Hargrove said. "We've got Seattle ... Oakland is hot ... then New York. It's not going to be easy, but I'm looking forward to it."

It would have been nice to head out there with a six-game winning streak, but the Orioles can't complain about the outcome of the lengthy homestand. They finished 8-3 (with one unplayed rainout), climbing back to .500 for the first time since April 11.

Towers gave them every opportunity to keep the roll alive. He shut out the power-packed Rangers lineup on four hits over six innings before allowing a pair of bases-empty home runs to Frank Catalanotto and Andres Galarraga that gave Texas a one-run lead in the seventh.

Trouble was, Rangers veteran Kenny Rogers held the Orioles to just a run on five hits through the first six innings, so the rookie right-hander had little margin for error.

"Josh pitched very, very well - absolutely tremendous," Hargrove said. "He kept us in the game. We just could not get anything going against Rogers."

The Orioles knocked Rogers out of the game in the bottom of the seventh with back-to-back no-out singles and loaded the bases on a throwing error by Rangers third baseman Scott Sheldon, but managed to squeeze only the tying run out of the opportunity as Mike Kinkade followed Melvin Mora's sacrifice fly with a double-play grounder.

Both Rogers and Towers would end up out of the decision, but the newest member of the Orioles' rotation showed what he could do in the role he was developed to play - even though he had to battle a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand throughout the game.

"Today, I felt really good on the mound," Towers said. "I was getting the ball down and had control of all my pitches, which is pretty unusual. My control was just really good.

"This shows me I can get the job done. There will be no excuses if I don't get the job done the next time."

Towers didn't even avail himself of the usual excuses after the back-to-back home runs cost him a chance to pass a potential victory on to the Orioles' solid short-relief crew.

"You could guess tiredness," he said. "You could guess whatever you want. Those guys have never seen me before. That was the third or fourth time around the lineup. They had seen me and I kind of pitched them the same way.

"I did a good job for a solid six innings, but the seventh inning is when games are won. I still threw good, but the game was lost in the seventh. That's when you can't be giving up runs."

Hargrove could have treated the eighth inning like a short-relief situation. The game was tied and the Orioles had the home-field advantage, but he turned the game over to Paronto because the short-relief combo of Buddy Groom, B. J. Ryan and Mike Trombley has been working steadily.

"Everybody's got to pitch," Hargrove said. "Everybody's got to do their jobs. Ryan, Groom and Trombley had pitched a lot. It was Paronto's turn."

Not that Paronto (1-3) did anything particularly awful in the four-run Rangers eighth. Ivan Rodriguez reached base on a throwing error by shortstop Mike Bordick to lead off the inning and Paronto's greatest mistake probably was an ensuing walk to Alex Rodriguez.

Rafael Palmeiro loaded the bases with a soft single to right and the Rangers continued to hit 'em where they weren't until the game was out of hand.

The big blow - if you could call it that - was delivered by outfielder Gabe Kapler, who stroked a sharp grounder that got under the glove of a diving Cal Ripken to bring home two runs and break the 2-2 tie.

McElroy, making his first appearance since May 17, came on to get the first out, but the Rangers would add a third run on a bloop single by Sheldon and another on an infield hit by Rusty Greer.

"We let the leadoff guy get on, walked the second guy and then they hit the ball where we just couldn't get it," Hargrove said. "I'm not taking anything away from the Rangers. To their credit, they put the ball in play. They just didn't put it in play very hard. They hit the right spots."

The Orioles added a run in the ninth when first baseman David Segui launched his second home run of the season, but the Rangers' bullpen held together to give reliever J. D. Smart his first major-league victory.

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