MINNEAPOLIS -- The Baltimore Orioles arrived at the Metrodome yesterday brimming with confidence and ready to build on the positive developments of the past week. But as so often happens at 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 in one of the game's new-age stadiums. Right-hander Jack Morris gave up seven hits over 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 off Baltimore starter Jeff Robinson and added a long RBI double to deprive the Orioles of their second three-game winning streak in the span of seven days.
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.
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 over the past four weeks.
Not even a three-hit performance by Cal Ripken could jump-start the Orioles' offense, which would have stayed motionless if not for Ripken's continued hot hitting (he's batting .356) and a couple of singles by first baseman David Segui.
Morris finally turned the game over to stopper Rick Aguilara after giving up a single to open the ninth. Aguilara gave up an RBI double to Sam Horn, but hung on to record his 12 save of the year.
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 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 a mammoth upper-deck home run he served up to Hrbek in the fourth. The ball traveled 444 feet, but it counted for only one run. That was one of the few times in the early innings that Robinson was not working with runners on base.
The Twins added two runs 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 Cal Ripken vacated to cover second base. Gagne never looked back, circling third and scoring just ahead of the relay throw from Ripken. Hrbek brought home another 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.
Hrbek's double brought an end to Robinson's 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 last Tuesday. He has faced 19 hitters and the only one to reach base got there on a strike out 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 Cal Ripken pulled a double down the left-field line in the sixth inning to drive in the only 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