Orioles blow 7-0 lead, lose to Royals, 9-8, in 15 Error by Bell in 9th forces extra innings

THE BALTIMORE SUN

KANSAS CITY -- The Baltimore Orioles returned to Royals Stadium and found that little had changed since that wild June 23 doubleheader in which both games went into extra innings with the score tied, 8-8.

Cue the "Twilight Zone" theme. This one went into extra innings with the score tied at 8, too. The only difference was the outcome. This time, the Orioles came up on the wrong end of a very frustrating evening.

Second baseman Juan Bell threw a ball into the Orioles dugout to bring home the tying run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and the Royals went on to score a 9-8 victory on an RBI single by Bill Pecota in the 15th inning.

Yes, you read that right. Bell threw the ball into the Orioles dugout, which is on the third base side of the field. Many second-base throwing errors end up in the first base dugout, since it is behind first base. Bell, for reasons yet to be explained, fielded a bouncer behind second base and tried to catch pinch runner Gary Thurman off third base.

The throw sailed about 15 feet wide of third baseman Leo Gomez, allowing Thurman to score and complete a tremendous Royals comeback.

"The way it looked to me, he started to throw it, then realized he didn't want to throw, then tried to stop, and it just came out of his hand," Orioles manager John Oates said.

Lest anyone forget, the Orioles and Royals played a total of 22 innings on June 23, combining for 37 runs and 65 hits. Each game featured a long-shot late-inning comeback. The similarities last night were almost eerie.

There were 17 runs, 39 hits and enough highlights and lowlights to fill a couple of episodes of "This Week in Baseball." Here's a sample:

* Designated hitter Sam Horn tied a major-league record for an extra-inning game with six strikeouts. He is the sixth player to accomplish that dubious feat, and he did it in fewer innings (13) than any of the other five.

* The last three games with the Royals generated a combined total of 53 runs, 101 hits and 36 innings.

* It was the fifth time since 1989 that the Orioles have played 13 innings or more. Four of those games have been against the Royals.

Had the Orioles recorded the third out in the 15th, the game would have been suspended because of an American League rule that forbids starting an inning after 1 a.m. local time.

The Orioles had taken a 7-0 lead in the early innings, thanks largely to a five-RBI performance by Randy Milligan, but starter Ben McDonald ran aground in the fourth and the Royals chipped away at the Orioles bullpen until Gregg Olson had to come on to protect a one-run lead with two outs in the ninth.

The Royals were down to their last out with no one on base, but Olson's 20th save never got into the books. He gave up a single to Danny Tartabull. Thurman came on to pinch run and stole second. Benzinger followed with a high bouncer up the middle and the evening went downhill from there.

Bell had made the error that led to Tuesday night's come-from-ahead loss to the California Angels, but dropping a throw at first base is a sound fundamental play compared with what he did last night.

His heart was in the right place. If he had made a perfect throw the game might have been over. Instead, the Orioles had to play several more innings while trying to count the days until Bill Ripken returns from the disabled list.

Despite the 90-degree heat, Royals Stadium was beginning to grow on the Orioles, who took three out of four games in a wild series here just 3 1/2 weeks ago. They came back swinging and scored four runs last night in their biggest first inning of the year.

Royals starter Mark Gubicza had pitched six shutout innings in his only other start against Baltimore this year, a four-hit performance on June 11. He had not lost to the Orioles since 1987.

But he allowed five straight batters to reach base after there were two outs in the first during a rare Oriole bat-around.

Leadoff hitter Brady Anderson pulled a single to right field to open the game, but Gubicza retired the next two batters and appeared to have the inning under control. Then he walked Sam Horn and served up the towering three-run shot to Randy Milligan.

It was Milligan's 11th home run of the season and his ninth since he began to climb out of an early-season slump in late May. It was his second against Gubicza in just eight career at-bats.

Former Royals prospect Chito Martinez kept the inning alive with a looping single to left field and Gubicza walked Leo Gomez to set up a run-scoring single by Chris Hoiles.

It was a tough night all around for Gubicza, who didn't get out of the fourth inning. He gave up a one-out triple to Anderson and a run-scoring single to Cal Ripken before Horn reached base on a third-strike passed ball to set the stage for Milligan again.

This time, the Orioles first baseman lined a double up the alley in left center to score both runners and break the game open.

The Orioles set consecutive season highs when they had 17 hits in the first game of a doubleheader here on June 23 and had 18 in the nightcap. They picked up right where they left off, running up 19 hits last night.

McDonald is no stranger to offensive support. The Orioles average 5.4 runs in his 11 1991 starts and have scored not fewer than five in any of the four games McDonald has pitched since he returned from the disabled list, but he could not parlay the seven-run lead into his fifth victory.

The Royals had runners on base in each of the first four innings, but did not get on the board until Danny Tartabull led off the fourth with his 22nd home run, another moon shot that cleared the fence in center field.

Tartabull has been a major pain to the Orioles pitching staff. He entered the game with a .480 season average against Baltimore and hit safely in his first two at-bats. The home run was his fourth of the year against the Orioles, the RBI his 11th. No other Royals batter has more than five in the first eight games of the season series.

Kansas City kept the heat on in the fourth, adding two more runs on a two-out pinch triple by Kevin Seitzer before Kirk Gibson knocked McDonald out of the game with an RBI single through the right side of the infield.

Left-hander Paul Kilgus took over with George Brett at the plate representing the potential tying run, but got out of the inning on a sharp groundout to the second baseman.

The Royals batted around to turn a laugher back into a serious ballgame, only to come up one swing short of a tremendous comeback.

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