Orioles get out of April, barely


The Orioles kissed off April with another ghastly loss, another round of glazed-eye post-mortems and no excuses last night.

When opportunity knocked, the Orioles turned their heads. When Seattle invited the Orioles to get back in the game, they politely declined. When push came to shove, the Orioles hit the deck.

Score it 6-3, Mariners, and when's this nasty homestand over, anyway?

Tonight, as it turns out. Not a moment too soon.

The Orioles have won one of five games on the current homestand. They won two of nine at Memorial Stadium all of April. Two. If this is "A Season to Remember," it was a month to forget.

It matched the fourth worst April in the club's 38-year history. It produced an American League-worst record of 6-12. It put the team's cleanup hitter on the disabled list with a strength-sapping neck injury. It put the manager on the hot seat with second-guess delight.

"Everybody goes through slumps," pitcher Jeff Ballard said last night. "You just hope you start off a little better than this.

"What this team needs is to put some consistent games together, and go home feeling the fun of winning. That makes people more hungry."

Their latest loss left the Orioles with anxiety pangs, instead. Ballard clearly deserved a better fate than his early fifth-inning exit and ensuing second loss.

For the second straight night, the Orioles were staggered by one bad inning. This time it was the fifth, when the Mariners transformed a 2-1 lead into a 5-1 stranglehold.

It was an inning fraught with missed opportunity for the Orioles. There were two walks by Ballard to get the Mariners started. There was an error by third baseman Leo Gomez to let in one run. And there was a finishing-touch, two-run single by Tracy Jones.

But perhaps the most critical play of the inning was a questionable decision by Gomez to throw home for a forceout when he might have gone for a double play that could have nipped the rally without a run.

The bases were loaded with one out when Henry Cotto grounded to third. Gomez barely got the force on Jay Buhner at home when his throw pulled catcher Chris Hoiles away from the plate. Any chance Gomez had of a home-to-first double play vanished with that throw.

Should Gomez have gone for the more conventional second-to-first double play?

"Should've, could've, would've," manager Frank Robinson said, dodging the question.

"When you're going bad, even your decisions are wrong."

Gomez said he didn't think about going to second because of Cotto's speed.

"He runs pretty well," Gomez said, "and I was playing back. I had no chance to make the double play over there. I wanted to make sure of the out."

Ballard still could have escaped harm by retiring the next batter, Omar Vizquel. But Gomez, starting for Craig Worthington in Robinson's juggled lineup, booted Vizquel's sharp grounder and Seattle had a 3-1 lead.

One batter later, Jones punched a hanging curveball to leftfield for a 5-1 lead and Ballard (2-2) was out of the game.

"I was my own worst enemy, walking two in one inning to put myself in a jam to start with," Ballard said, downplaying the defensive lapses.

Defense wasn't the only culprit, though. The Orioles stranded seven runners in the first three innings against winner Erik Hanson (2-1), and were only 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

They made it 5-2 when Dwight Evans drilled the 380th homer of his career -- but first as an Oriole -- in the fifth. They chased Hanson in the sixth on Brady Anderson's RBI single. With runners on first and third, lefthander Russ Swan replaced Hanson. Robinson countered by pinch-hitting Mike Devereaux for Joe Orsulak.

When Devereaux grounded into an inning-ending double play on the first pitch, it was the Orioles' last gasp. Swan retired all 10 batters he faced, getting eight ground-ball outs.

So much for a fast start this season for the Orioles.

"It's time to put a few wins together," Ballard said. "We don't need a long streak, but we need to start winning."

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