Seattle slips out of O's grip, 6-4

2-out rally in 6th wipes 4-1 deficit, avoids loss of first '01 road series

September 02, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Offered a chance at making history, the Orioles yesterday chose to repeat it.

Because the Seattle Mariners eventually played like the Mariners and the Orioles like the Orioles, Brady Anderson's early three-run homer and starting pitcher Jose Mercedes' five strong innings were negated by forces that have become as predictable as the tides for each team.

The Mariners left Camden Yards with a 6-4 win after trailing 4-1. The Orioles' frustration was only heightened by what they might have accomplished.

The Mariners turned the game with a four-run sixth inning built entirely after two outs. Two doubles, two glancing shots off two pitchers, three uncontested stolen bases and two walks comprised the slow drip, sending the Orioles to their seventh loss in eight games.

Given the Orioles' 3-0 win Friday, the Mariners had been threatened with their first road series loss of the season. More impressively, they have won or tied a major-league record of 27 consecutive road series dating to last year. Today is their 16th must-win game to preserve the streak.

"No one talks about it," Mariners center fielder Mike Cameron said, "but everyone knows about it."

To a lesser degree the same can be said about the Orioles' tendency to walk away from exploiting rallies while allowing their opponents a two-out feeding frenzy.

"It's a situation where you intensify your focus with two outs. That's where they seemed to do well. They've scored the majority of their runs with two outs this year," observed first baseman Jeff Conine, who reached base four times, scoring once.

Mercedes (7-16) has been vulnerable to huge innings all season and yesterday reinforced the clubhouse notion that he is more aggressive without base runners. Through five innings his only sin was a bases-empty home run to Cameron in the second inning. His collapse began when Bret Boone ricocheted a grounder off him with two outs in the sixth.

One of three Mariners with three hits, Cameron doubled off the top of the left-center-field wall to score Boone. Stan Javier then sliced a double into the left-field corner to make it a 4-3 game. Mercedes was replaced by left-hander B.J. Ryan after walking David Bell.

Ryan's arrival motivated Mariners manager Lou Piniella to pinch hit Jay Buhner for his first plate appearance this season.

Ryan quickly overpowered Buhner for a strike before curiously feeding him breaking pitches off the plate. Even with an uncontested double steal vacating first base, manager Mike Hargrove thought walking Buhner, sidelined all season following foot surgery, the inning's most serious flaw.

"We were pitching to get Buhner out," Hargrove said. "I thought and I still think that B.J. Ryan has the stuff to get Jay Buhner out, especially coming off a rehab assignment, if he throws strikes. He just didn't do that today."

Right fielder and American League batting leader Ichiro Suzuki then lined a drive off Ryan's shin that rolled slowly enough to the outfield for two runners to score, turning a 4-3 deficit into a 5-4 lead.

"The whole thing started with two outs and nobody on," Conine said. "Boone hits a ball off the pitcher. Ichiro hits a ball off the pitcher. It seems like if things are going your way those balls bounce to somebody and you throw them out. When they don't ... "

When they don't, Mercedes receives his league-leading 16th loss - most by an Oriole since Mike Boddicker's 17 in 1985 - while Paul Abbott (14-3) gains a win in return for allowing 13 base runners, including six walks, in five innings.

Mercedes watched from the bench as the remnants of his lead turned into his fourth loss without a win in eight career games against the Mariners. He was gone when the clubhouse opened.

"Jose was outstanding all day long," Hargrove said. "But with two outs, the roof just caved in. It's just one of those things that happened."

The Orioles are hitting .252 with runners in scoring position. The Mariners are hitting .302. Yesterday the visitors outdid themselves by going 10-for-16 with two outs and runners in scoring position. Their last 10 hits came with two outs.

"We don't get the hit when we need it and we don't make the pitch when we need to. That's why we lose games like today," said shortstop Melvin Mora, who bounced into a double play to end the fourth inning and popped to second with the tying run at third in the eighth.

Pick a spot in the Orioles' lineup and you would probably find a guilty hand. The Orioles ran or grounded into double plays to end two innings, were an infuriating 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, stranded 10 runners, scored only one of eight hitters who walked and were held hitless after the fifth inning. Aside from Anderson's one-out home run that provided a 3-1 lead, the Orioles scored only on a wild pitch by Abbott.

"Any time you give up four runs in an inning with two outs, it's tough," Hargrove said. "But we had a couple of chances to put the game away. They got the big hit when they needed it and we didn't, bottom line. If you let them hang around too long, they will do what they did."

The 97-39 Mariners might lead their division by 18 games but they continue to play with an urgency of a team chasing history. They are three wins shy of tying the American League record for road victories (55) and eight wins short of the 1906 Chicago Cubs.

Their 136-game start is tied for the seventh best in major-league history. Games like yesterday's make the Orioles vie to be first out the door.

Orioles today

Opponent: Seattle Mariners

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 1:35 p.m.

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

Starters: Mariners' Joel Pineiro (3-1, 2.35) vs. Orioles' Rick Bauer (major-league debut)

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