MINNEAPOLIS -- The Baltimore Orioles arrived in Minnesota yesterday brimming with confidence and ready to build on the positive developments of the past week. But as so often happens at the Metrodome, baseball's tribute to Teflon, the euphoria didn't stick.
The Orioles had beaten Roger Clemens at venerable Fenway Park on Sunday, but they couldn't handle one of the American League's old masters last night. Right-hander Jack Morris gave up seven hits in eight innings, as the Minnesota Twins scored a 3-2 victory in the opener of a three-game series.
First baseman Kent Hrbek hit a mammoth home run and a long RBI double off Baltimore starter Jeff Robinson to deprive the Orioles of their second three-game winning streak in the span of seven days.
Manager John Oates tried to present the game as another step in the right direction for his once-beleaguered club -- and perhaps it was -- but he could not deny being disappointed at the team's 1-4 record in one-run games since he took over.
"You want to get over the hump," he said. "You don't want to keep losing those one-run ballgames. A good club is going to play 30 to 35 one-run games. We've lost four of them. But again, just look where our club has come from in the past two weeks. We faced a pretty good pitcher and had a chance to win the ballgame."
The Orioles came into the game with five victories in their previous six games and a string of nine solid performances from the starting rotation, but Robinson faltered in the middle innings and lost for the fifth time in eight 1991 decisions.
Orioles pitchers gave up just three runs to a formidable Twins lineup and still came up short. The only thing that stood between Morris and a shutout was a three-hit performance by Cal Ripken that included an RBI double in the sixth and a leadoff single in a near-miss ninth.
Morris turned the game over to relief ace Rick Aguilera at that point, but his 12th save was not exactly an open-and-shut case. He struck out Joe Orsulak to record the first out of the inning, then gave up a run-scoring double to pinch hitter Sam Horn to put the tying run at second base.
Oates sent in catcher Chris Hoiles to run for Horn, but Hoiles overcommitted on a comebacker to the mound and was tagged out in a rundown between second and third. Aguilera walked Ernie Whitt to lessen the impact of the base-running error before getting Jeff McKnight on a looping foul ball to end the game.
"It wasn't a terrible game for us," Oates said. "We made one mistake all night. We did a lot of things well. If you give up three runs a night, you're going to win some ballgames."
The evening brought together two pitchers who had spent their entire careers with the Detroit Tigers organization before changing uniforms this year.
Morris, a native of Minnesota, came home as a free agent after winning 198 games during an illustrious career in Detroit. Robinson does not have the same kind of credentials, but he has been one of the Orioles' most consistent pitchers during the past four weeks.
Robinson did his usual tightrope thing, pitching with runners on base in each of the five innings in which he appeared. Coming into the game, he had pitched with runners on base in 43 of the 53 innings in which he had appeared, but had been scored on in only 10 innings.
"He made the statement earlier this season that he's always been a pitcher who is in trouble a lot and he's always been able to work out of it," pitching coach Al Jackson said before the game. "For the most part, he's been able to make the pitches he needs to make. You've got to have good stuff if you're going to be in trouble all the time."
Robinson finally made some costly pitches in the middle innings, starting with the tremendous upper-deck home run he served up to Hrbek in the fourth. The ball traveled 444 feet. That was one of the few times in the early innings that Robinson was not working with runners on base.
The Twins scored two in the fifth inning, the first on a perfectly executed hit-and-run. Greg Gagne broke from first and Kirby Puckett poked a two-out single right over the spot that Ripken had vacated to cover second base. Gagne never looked back, circling third and scoring just ahead of the relay throw from Ripken.
"That's just the breaks," Robinson said. "We came in playing well, and they have been playing well. Somebody was going to get the breaks, and they got them."
Hrbek brought home a run with a long fly ball to left-center that sent Jeff McKnight slamming into the wall in a vain attempt to make the catch. Robinson walked the next batter intentionally, ending his ninth start of the year. He gave up three runs on eight hits over 4 2/3 innings and dropped to 3-5.
The Orioles got another fine relief appearance from side-armer Todd Frohwirth, who pitched 2 1/3 innings without allowing a runner. Frohwirth has made five hitless appearances since he was called up from the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings on Tuesday. He has faced 19 hitters, and the only one to reach base got there on a strikeout and a passed ball.
Morris has not had an easy homecoming. He got off to an 0-3
start before winning five of his next seven decisions to enter the game with a 5-5 record and a 4.46 ERA.
But he looked like the same old Jack Morris to the Orioles, who managed a scant handful of singles off him until Ripken pulled a double down the left-field line in the sixth inning to drive in the first Orioles run.
Twins fourth: Puckett grounded out to shortstop C.Ripken. Hrbek homered to right on 0-1 count. Davis doubled to right center. Harper grounded out to shortstop C.Ripken, Davis to third. Larkin hit by pitch. Gladden ran for Larkin. Pagliarulo flied out to right fielder Orsulak. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Twins 1, Orioles 0.
Twins fifth: Munoz popped out to second baseman B.Ripken. Gagne singled to shortstop. Knoblauch flied out to center fielder Devereaux. Puckett singled to left center, Gagne scored; on throw home, Puckett to second. Hrbek doubled to left, Puckett ** scored. Davis intentionally walked. Frohwirth relieved Robinson. Harper grounded into fielder's choice, second baseman B.Ripken to shortstop C.Ripken, Davis forced at second. 2 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Twins 3, Orioles 0.
Orioles sixth: B.Ripken grounded out to shortstop Gagne. Devereaux popped out to second baseman Knoblauch. Hulett walked. C.Ripken doubled down the left field line, Hulett scored. Orsulak lined out to shortstop Gagne. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 1 left on. Twins 3, Orioles 1.
Orioles ninth: C.Ripken singled to left. Aguilera relieved Morris. Orsulak struck out. Horn, pinch hitting for Milligan, doubled to right center, C.Ripken scored. Hoiles ran for Horn. Segui grounded into fielder's choice, pitcher Aguilera to shortstop Gagne to third baseman Newman, Hoiles out at third. Whitt walked, Segui to second. McKnight fouled out to third baseman Newman. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Twins 3, Orioles 2.
Site: The Metrodome, Minneapolis
Orioles starter: Jeff Ballard (3-6, 3.99)
Twins starter: Mark Guthrie (4-3, 4.46)
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)
TV: Channels 2, 20