Skid hits 5, but O's told not to panic

Red Sox cap sweep, 4-1, but Hargrove encouraged by pitching, hitters' past

`Track records say they will hit'

Maduro yields 2 homers to Hillenbrand in 1st start

hitters draw some boos

April 08, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

With the Orioles off to their worst start since 1993, manager Mike Hargrove gathered his players for a brief post-game meeting yesterday.

The Orioles' slumbering offense had just made Pedro Martinez look superhuman again, and Shea Hillenbrand had just hit two home runs to give the Boston Red Sox a 4-1 victory before 33,790 at Camden Yards.

So with the losing streak at five games, and the collective batting average at .167, Hargrove told his players to enjoy their day off today before beginning a three-game series with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

"It was just a little pep talk," said Orioles right fielder Jay Gibbons. "He just said, `Keep doing what we're doing, and we'll be OK.' "

One week into the season, this has become the team's mantra. The Orioles are 1-5, despite playing three games against the New York Yankees and three against the Red Sox without giving up more than four runs.

The 1993 Orioles began the season 1-6 and finished 85-77. After seeing the pitching over the past week - the team ERA is 3.00 - this club seems to believe a similar turnaround is possible. That is, if the offense wakes up soon.

"We're six games into the season; I'm not going to panic," Hargrove said. "There's no reason to panic. We've got a ballclub that played well in spring training. We've got good hitters in our lineup, and we've got to give them time and show patience and allow them to find their stroke."

Leadoff hitter Jerry Hairston has an on-base percentage of .120.

Chief run producers Jeff Conine and David Segui have combined for one RBI.

Mike Bordick is batting .118, and Chris Singleton .125.

Melvin Mora, their leading hitter entering yesterday, went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.

Still, Hargrove said he doesn't plan to shake up the lineup.

"If we had hitters throughout our lineup who did not have a track record, that would be one thing," Hargrove said. "But people like David Segui and Jeff Conine and Chris Singleton and Mike Bordick and Melvin Mora, these guy have track records.

"And their track records say they will hit. I choose to believe that and trust them. So I'll be patient with them, and we'll see this thing through."

Yesterday presented an opportunity to get untracked against Martinez, a three-time Cy Young winner. On Opening Day, the Orioles roughed up six-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens for eight runs while Martinez was giving up seven earned runs against the Toronto Blue Jays.

But Martinez (1-0) made things look simple again yesterday, holding the Orioles to one unearned run on three hits over six innings.

"When I threw on the side [Wednesday] in Boston, I thought I had it figured out," Martinez said. "I feel fine. I just haven't been clicking."

The Orioles' only run came courtesy of Hillenbrand's throwing error in the fourth inning. Of course, by that point Hillenbrand had already hit a pair of two-run homers off Orioles starter Calvin Maduro, one in the second inning and one in the fourth.

Maduro (0-1) came off the disabled list with right forearm stiffness earlier in the day, and Hargrove replaced him with Rodrigo Lopez to start the fifth.

"He was throwing the ball 84, 85 [mph]," Hargrove said of Maduro. "Coming off the DL, we just figured enough was enough."

Lopez allowed just three hits over the next four innings, which kept the Orioles within striking distance and only made their offensive failures that much more glaring.

With two on and two out in the eighth, Segui came up against Boston reliever Rolando Arrojo and hit a majestic pop-up to right field, squeezing his hands against his helmet in anguish as his hitless streak reached 13 at-bats.

"I've had about 20 at-bats in a row like that," Segui said. "So you'd like to tear your hair out."

Orioles fans, who seemed outnumbered by Red Sox fans throughout the series, let out a smattering of boos for Segui after his pop-up to second base in the sixth inning.

They also let Hairston hear it when he popped up a bunt attempt in the eighth.

"The biggest thing is it's just six games," Hairston said. "If I stay with this approach, I'll turn it around."

The Orioles brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth, but Red Sox closer Ugueth Urbina earned his third save by striking out Mora and getting pinch hitter Gary Matthews Jr. to ground to first.

Later, in a quiet clubhouse, the Orioles were somewhat heartened that Conine and Singleton had hit some balls hard, while Segui and Tony Batista had hit long foul balls that were almost home runs.

"I can honestly say offensively, there has not been one thing that's gone our way," Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley said. "That's not to make an excuse, that's just the facts. I see a lot of good signs, and as long as we continue to battle and don't get disheartened, things will be OK."

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