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Ballard can't budge door to home win


The Orioles' Jeff Ballard would like to forget it, but he can't. Somebody is always there to remind him.

The date was Sept. 20, 1989. That was the last time Ballard won a start at Memorial Stadium.

"Against Detroit, I think," Ballard said, right on the money. "I knew it was Sept. 20, 1989, because I read it in the paper the last time I pitched. Reporters never let that stuff die."

There is no explanation for it, of course. Since that victory over the Tigers, Ballard has made 15 starts at home without winning, losing 10 of them.

It was the same refrain last night, as Ballard pitched into the seventh inning, only to absorb a 3-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, who stretched their American League East advantage to 1 1/2 games over the Boston Red Sox.

"A Jeff Ballard game," was the way manager John Oates characterized it. "A hit an inning. Twelve to 13 base runners. Balls hit right at people. And like he has of late, he kept us in the game. To keep pitching with only one run is tough, though."

That was all Ballard had while he was around, Leo Gomez's first major-league home run, a solo shot in the second inning. It wasn't until the ninth inning that Randy Milligan drove in the second run.

Milligan's run-scoring single ended a spell during which the Orioles had gone 0-for-16 with men on base. That was what Ballard was up against.

"We got the first guy on base in six innings," Oates said. "One time we got the second batter on. That's seven. It was one of those nights."

On several occasions, the Orioles were only a hit away from winning or at least tying the score. At the end, Oates had pinch-hitter Dwight Evans facing Toronto bullpen ace Tom Henke.

"We had a pretty good guy facing a pretty good guy," Oates said. "But only one guy can come out on top."

Alas, Evans popped up for the final out with two men on base.

"It will change before it's over," Oates said. "We'll get it one of these nights and hopefully it will be before the ninth inning. We'll get it early when it can make a difference."

Ballard's record is 3-7. He is 1-6 in his last 10 games, nine of them starts, picking up the lone win when the Orioles outdid themselves with a nine-run eruption.

Ballard yielded a solo home run to Devon White in the fourth and gave up a run in each of the next two innings on RBI singles that catcher Bob Melvin called "flip hits to left."

"Sometimes you feel better if you get beat by rockets," Melvin said. "Jeff pitched well enough to win, definitely."

Ballard seemed to feel that way, too, but he didn't put it as bluntly.

"I was all right, but not good enough," he said. "It's depressing. We were in a perfect situation to win the series, three out of four. We would have been starting to get over the hump.

"Now we're back to where we were after [losing the three-game] Minnesota series. It's frustrating. There's been only one game when we haven't been in it -- John's first one."

Well, maybe one other, a 7-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Although the Orioles are 7-10 under Oates, seven of the 10 defeats have been by one run. On the year, the Orioles are 4-12 in one-run decisions.

People ask Ballard at the beginning of a season about his goals. Fifteen wins? More than that?

"You can't control wins all the time," he said. "So I don't like to dwell on that."

Ballard finds it difficult to explain this: Since leading American League lefthanders with 18 victories in 1989, he has won only five of 23 decisions.

His opponent last night was Todd Stottlemyre, who, at 26, was pitching in his 100th major-league game. Stottlemyre (6-2), who had failed to win in his previous four starts, held the Orioles to three hits, Gomez's home run the only one of consequence, before retiring after seven innings.

"It looked like he had his 90-mph fastball," Oates said. "He was good with his slider and worked both sides of the plate. He had good luck with Junior."

Cal Ripken Jr. went 0-for-4, reducing his average from .359 to .352. He still leads the league in hitting.

As Oates searched for bright spots, he mentioned David Segui. Segui got through the evening without mishap in leftfield.

The manager would like to construe that as progress. Only three nights before, Oates noted, Segui "couldn't catch the ball."

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