Close shaves have Oates bristling


MINNEAPOLIS -- Most of what John Oates has seen in the last two weeks he likes.

But one thing that has become something of a trend with the Orioles is disturbing.

"We've got to get over the hump and win one of these one-run games," Oates said after the Orioles dropped a 3-2 decision to Jack Morris and the Minnesota Twins last night.

"Most of the games you play are going to be one- and two-run games, so you've got to win your share," said Oates. Four of the six losses the Orioles have suffered since he became manager have been by one run.

After 48 games the Orioles have played 19 that have been decided by one or two runs. They have won only six. A split in those games would have them in a much more respectable position, and might have helped save Frank Robinson's job.

"We had a pretty good guy going against us [Morris], but we had chances to win the game and couldn't do it," said Oates.

Morris (6-5), who evened his lifetime record against the Orioles at 13-13, pitched eight efficient innings last night, giving up seven hits. He wasn't overpowering, retiring the side in order in only two innings, but he had enough pop to win for the fourth time in his last five decisions.

Double-play grounders off the bat of Ernie Whitt thwarted the Orioles in the second and fifth innings and shortstop Greg Gagne's leaping catch of Joe Orsulak's line drive saved a run in the sixth. "Ernie is probably the best guy on our team to hit in that situation, with the big hole between first and second [with the runner being held on base]," said Oates. "He usually can take advantage of all that room, but tonight he couldn't do it."

On his third at-bat, with nobody on base, Whitt ironically grounded a double just inside the line -- another ball that first baseman Kent Hrbek probably would have fielded had he been holding a runner on. "I usually hit Jack pretty good," said Whitt. "They filled the hole up on me the first time, but the second time [a grounder to Gagne at shortstop] I got myself out. I was determined he wasn't going to get me the third time."

Although the Orioles were struggling against Morris, Jeff Robinson (3-5) survived some early line-drive outs and a monstrous home run by Hrbek, only to be done in by a pair of skimpy ground ball singles. A two-hopper that deflected just enough off third baseman Tim Hulett's glove to prevent shortstop Cal Ripken from throwing out Gagne set the table for a two-run fifth inning.

The second key hit was Kirby Puckett's two-out, hit-and-run single that went through the hole vacated by shortstop Ripken. It was hit so softly that Gagne scored easily from first base before leftfielder Jeff McKnight could get to the ball.

"Those two hits ended up being the difference," said Robinson. "I made a bad pitch to Hrbek, but otherwise I felt good about the way I threw the ball [50 strikes in 76 pitches].

"I'm not disappointed with the way I pitched, but I'm disappointed with the way things happened. Puckett broke his bat on the ball he hit, but that's what happens when you're going good, and he's swinging real good right now.

"The one thing I need to do," said Robinson, "is incorporate an off-speed pitch a little earlier in the game. I did that against Cleveland, but tonight I didn't establish it early enough to let them know I would throw it."

Robinson's outing could hardly be classified a gem, but at least he, Todd Frohwirth and Paul Kilgus kept the Orioles in the game. They had a chance to win it at the end, but Oates ran out of maneuverability, the price he has to pay for carrying 11 pitchers.

A pinch-hit double by Sam Horn following a single by Ripken made the score 3-2. After pinch-runner Chris Hoiles got trapped on David Segui's bouncer to reliever Rick Aguilera, a baserunning blunder rendered insignificant by Whitt's ensuing four-pitch walk, Jeff McKnight fouled out to end the game.

The only player the Orioles had left on the bench was catcher Bob Melvin, who is 3-for-7 against Aguilera, but that wasn't enough to influence Oates. "He [McKnight] was good enough to start the game, and I felt like he was the best player we had in that situation," said Oates, who was also faced with the possibility of putting together a makeshift lineup.

The point Oates seemed to be emphasizing was that the Orioles, as presently constituted, are going to have to find ways to scratch out enough runs to win whenever they get decent pitching. It's not the blowouts that are a concern, as they were earlier in the year.

The pitching is finding ways to keep the Orioles in games. Now the offense has to find a way to win them.

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