Orioles call umpires into question after 10-inning defeat Tuesday


MINNEAPOLIS -- The Baltimore Orioles fumed quietly Tuesday night, their anger with plate umpire Dale Ford obvious but their demeanor too reserved to say much about it.

The Minnesota Twins had just scored a 10-inning, 4-3 victory on a two-out bloop hit by pinch hitter Randy Bush, but the Orioles were certain that it never should have gotten to the point where a soft single would be so hard to accept.

Ford found fault with a couple of curveballs by Gregg Olson while Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek was at the plate. If the calls had gone the other way, Bush would not have gotten a chance to push the Orioles to the brink of a three-game sweep at the Metrodome.

"I thought my pitcher made some pretty good pitches," manager John Oates said, "but I don't want to get into the umpiring. The bottom line is that they scored a run in the bottom of the 10th and won the ballgame."

Olson argued briefly with Ford as he came off the field, but would not comment on the umpiring afterward, except to say that he was happy with the way he pitched.

Catcher Bob Melvin also is careful with his words when it comes to criticizing the umpire, but it wasn't hard to read between the lines.

"I don't know what a ball or strike is anymore," he said. "I'm numb. I couldn't tell you what a ball or a strike is anymore because I don't know where the strike zone is."

Bush's single brought a dismal end to another impressive overall performance by the Orioles bullpen, which was working on a string of 26 1/3 scoreless innings when the bloop hit sailed over second baseman Juan Bell and brought home pinch runner Pedro Munoz.

"Any time you lose, it's a tough way to lose," Oates said. "You have to keep these guys positive. You can get frustrated losing games by one run, but we have to keep charging."

The Orioles have lost five of six one-run decisions since Oates took over as Orioles manager. This, however, has been through no fault of the relief corps, which has answered with a solid performance every time he has picked up the phone in the past eight games. And sometimes he has picked it up pretty early.

Oates pulled starter Jeff Ballard after only four-plus innings, even though he had given up just three runs and the game was tied. Three relievers shut down the potent Twins for 5 2/3 innings before finally letting the game get away.

Right-hander Mark Williamson replaced Ballard with a runner on and no one out in the fifth inning and pitched three innings of two-hit relief. Left-hander Mike Flanagan came on with a runner on and none out in the eighth and got out of trouble. He worked through the ninth before turning the game over to Olson.

The Orioles closer retired the first two batters he faced, but catcher Brian Harper singled and Hrbek walked to bring Bush to the plate to bat for outfielder Shane Mack.

Perhaps the outcome would have been the same even if Olson had gotten out of the jam. The Baltimore offense was held scoreless from the sixth inning on, even though the Orioles had runners in scoring position three times in the last five innings and had runners at first and second with none out in the 10th.

The pitching remains consistent, even if Ballard struggled in the early innings. For the second night in a row, the explosive Twins were held to three runs through nine innings and still managed to win.

Ballard had pitched well in each of his previous three games, giving up four runs over 16 1/3 innings (including a relief appearance), but he was pitching in trouble from the outset Tuesday night.

Kirby Puckett put the Twins on top in the first inning with a bases-empty home run, and Ballard gave up two more runs to erase an Orioles lead just an inning later.

In each case, he got the first two outs of the inning without allowing a runner. Scott Leius kept the Twins alive in the second with a looping single to right and scored on a long triple by Greg Gagne. The Twins regained the lead on the third straight two-out hit, a single by Dan Gladden.

Oates was saying just before game time that Ballard is at a disadvantage on artificial turf, because when he gets a ground ball it has a better chance of squirting through the infield. But that wasn't the problem in the early innings.

The Twins were hitting almost everything in the air. In addition to Puckett's home run, which cleared the 30-foot sheet of tarpaulin that serves as a right-field fence, Mack sent right fielder Dwight Evans to the warning track to pull down his second-inning fly ball and Gagne hit the fence on a fly with his RBI triple. Each of the first seven Minnesota hits went over the infield, not through it.

The Orioles used the turf to their advantage against Twins starter Mark Guthrie. Joe Orsulak scraped a single through the left side with two outs in the top of the second, moving Evans to third. Melvin walked to load the bases before Bill Ripken drove a single up the middle for two runs.

The Orioles added a run in the fifth when Mike Devereaux lined a leadoff single to right-center and Cal Ripken pulled a ground ball down the left-field line for an RBI double.

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