Master strategist Oates finds he is handcuffed by lack of talent


How bad is it?

John Oates managed his pitching staff exactly the way he wanted last night, but he was still left with journeyman lefthander Paul Kilgus working the ninth inning of a tie game. These things catch up with you. Royals 6, Orioles 4.

How bad is it?

Oates might have used a pinch-hitter for Tim (.204) Hulett with two on and two out in the eighth. Unfortunately, his only righthanded options were Chris (.210) Hoiles and switch-hitter Juan (.109) Bell. These things catch up with you. Royals 6, Orioles 4.

How bad is it?

Oates wouldn't eat his first week as manager. The last two weeks he hasn't slept. His barber just asked if he wanted his hair colored to remove the gray. Oates, 45, said that was a first. With this team, he's bound to hear the question again.

How bad is it?

The Orioles' five-game losing streak matches their longest of the season. They have the worst record in the majors (20-37) and are 11 1/2 games out of first place. They have a half-dozen quality players, and they just extended their general manager's contract two years.

Oates might be the second coming of John McGraw, but who'll ever know? The Orioles' Turn Back the Clock promotion is Wednesday. The players are supposed to wear uniforms from 1966, but to really look authentic, they should dress up like 1988.

Was that Kilgus, or Mark Thurmond?

Was that Hulett, or Rick Schu?

Oates did all he could last night, but again to no avail. Move by move, everything seemed perfect, everything made sense. But at the end of the game he was back at his desk, staring blankly at reporters and saying, 'You just keep the faith."

He lifted starter Roy Smith with two on and two outs in the fifth inning, after the Orioles rallied from a 4-0 deficit to tie the score. Smith looked upset, but later he admitted, "You watch the guy manage, you know he's going to make the move."

Right. Todd Frohwirth escaped the jam, but two innings later got in one of his own, giving up a leadoff triple to Brian McRae. Kirk Gibson and George Brett, a pair of lefthanded hitters, were next. Oates always seeks the best matchups -- Brett is 0-for-13 off Kevin Hickey -- but this time he had other ideas.

After Gibson bounced out to Frohwirth, he ordered an intentional walk to Brett. That brought up Danny Tartabull, who had reached safely in his previous seven plate appearances -- including a homer off Frohwirth the previous night, and another off Smith in the second inning.

Interesting strategy, to say the least.

Oates said he didn't want Brett batting in a clutch situation, figuring Frohwirth, a submarine pitcher, could force Tartabull to hit a ground ball. He was right: Tartabull bounced into a double play, and Frohwirth went on to strike out five in a career-high 3 1/3 innings.

An escape like that should lift a club, but the Orioles simply don't have the talent to sustain momentum. They put two on with one out against lefthander Mark Davis in the eighth. Then David Segui struck out, and Oates was forced to hit Hulett.

If the Orioles had taken the lead, Gregg Olson would have pitched the ninth instead of Kilgus. But Oates had already used Dwight Evans as a pinch-hitter that inning. Bill Ripken was unavailable due to a sore back. The choice was Hoiles or Bell, which is to say no choice at all. Hulett struck out.

Here's what's amazing: With only three healthy outfielders, the Orioles still haven't recalled Chito Martinez, who has 13 homers in 123 at-bats at Rochester. Oh, Martinez isn't a long-term solution, but he'd surely be more useful than Bell, who has yet to draw his first major-league walk.

Of course, another move to the disabled list is more likely than Chito for Tito, but enough on that. Kilgus replaced Frohwirth and struck out pinch-hitter Jim Eisenreich to start the ninth. McRae then beat out an infield single, setting up Gibson's game-winning home run.

Oates used Kilgus because he was more rested than Mike Flanagan, who pitched 3 1/3 innings Tuesday, and Hickey, who worked the two previous nights. Three of the first four Kansas City hitters were lefthanded. The idea was to hold off on Olson until Tartabull.

It was over before that.

No wonder the manager is turning gray.

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