Little things big problem for Mercedes

Mariners' 4-run first Friday latest example

September 09, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Late Orioles game: Last night's game between the Orioles and Mariners in Seattle ended too late to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at http://www.

SEATTLE - It's axiomatic in baseball that teams able to perform the little things well naturally take care of the larger things. Turn the routine double play, advance the runner, pitch ahead, and don't allow an opponent extra outs.

For the Orioles there have been far too many innings like Friday night's first against the Seattle Mariners combined with too many ruinous starts by Jose Merce des. This time they created an early hash of what finally ended as a 10-1 loss to the best team in baseball, a team committed to doing the little things correctly rather than relying on a collection of superstars.

Before a Safeco Field crowd of 45,797, Mercedes (7-17) drew a step closer to a 20-loss season due largely to a four-run first inning that detonated with center fielder Mike Cameron's two-out, two-strike, two-run homer.

Seattle piled on Mercedes for a 6-0 lead in the third inning when All-Star Bret Boone established an American League record for second basemen with his 34th home run.

The beating left the Orioles with their sixth consecutive loss and 12th in 13 games; they fell 30 games below .500 (55-85) for the first time since a 54-107 1988 season and remain the game's worst team (15-38) since the All-Star break. During their 13-game free fall, the Orioles have been out scored 80-21.

If not for a foul pop that eluded second baseman Jerry Hairston, Mercedes might have escaped the first inning without damage. Instead, a team able to score four or more runs only twice in its previous 12 games left the inning doomed.

This is how ripples become tsunamis and indignities pile atop embarrassments: With one out and a runner at first, Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez bled a pop foul down the right-field line.

Right fielder Chris Richard committed only briefly to the play, leaving Hairston to run full bore away from the plate. He missed what would have been a difficult but not highlight-quality catch.

Martinez used his second life to walk. The extra base allowed Stan Javier to score from second on John Olerud's single. The extra out allowed Boone to score Martinez for the inning's second run on a fly ball before Cameron drilled a hooking home run into the left-field bleachers on a 1-2 count.

Prone to huge innings all season, Mercedes never regained a rhythm. He folded after allowing six earned runs in three innings, handing him a loss in his fourth consecutive start while jacking his ERA to 8.40 in that span.

Mercedes has gone nine starts since clearing the seventh inning and, despite public assurances by the club to the contrary, appears in danger of losing his spot in the rotation.

Mercedes' losses are the most since Mike Boddicker dropped 17 in 1985 and tied him for fourth-most in franchise history. The pending free agent is one loss short of tying Jim Wilson (1955) and Pat Dobson (18) for second-most by an Orioles pitcher. (Don Larsen's club record appears safe for the moment.)

Mercedes has losing streaks of six and four games this season. His 10 road losses lead the American League while his overall total ties the San Diego Padres' Bobby Jones for the major-league lead.

Having cited bad luck as much as poor pitching for his lack of success following last season's 11-3 second half, Mercedes appears resigned to his fate.

Of course, the Orioles suffer numerous problems. A little thing like a base hit proved elusive for 5 1/3 innings against Mariners starting pitcher Paul Abbott (15-3) despite the long-awaited but short-lived return of David Segui.

The Orioles' switch-hitter and No. 3 bat tested his sore left knee by jogging before the game but was lifted after 4M-= innings. He couldn't make it to first base on a fourth-inning grounder and appeared little healthier than the player last seen on Aug. 23 in Tampa Bay.

Segui's removal moved left fielder Jeff Conine to first base and brought Brady Anderson into the game in left. Anderson spoiled Abbott's run at a no-hitter with a lined, one-out single.

The Mariners remain the only team the Orioles have beaten since Aug. 23, though the win represented only a brief interruption in the Mariners' run of 13 wins in the teams" past 14 games.

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