Despite errors, Oates vows to keep Bell in the lineup


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Baltimore Orioles' latest Missouri marathon lasted 5 1/2 hours and featured 40 hits, but in the early hours yesterday morning, the focus was on two questionable defensive plays by reserve second baseman Juan Bell.

The Kansas City Royals came back from an early seven-run deficit to send Wednesday night's game into yesterday, defeating the Orioles, 9-8, on an RBI single by Bill Pecota in the bottom of the 15th.

But the game might have been over in the ninth had Bell not fielded a two-out bouncer and thrown the ball into the third-base dugout to allow the tying run to score. It might not have been over in the 15th had Bell not cut off a throw from the outfield that seemed destined to complete an inning-ending double play.

"Juan Bell is going to play," said manager John Oates, fielding questions on a subject that has come up a few times before.

Bell is on the Orioles roster because he has to be. He is out of minor-league options, so to waive him is to risk losing the last remnant of the Eddie Murray trade. To keep him is to risk losing games like they did Tuesday night in California and yesterday morning at Royals Stadium.

"Juan Bell is going to play," Oates said again, as if it were his mantra.

In the game against the Angels, Bell was late covering first on a sacrifice bunt attempt in the eighth inning and then dropped the throw from pitcher Jeff Robinson. The Angels went on to score two unearned runs and a comeback victory.

That was a sound fundamental play compared with the one that kept the game alive in the ninth inning on Wednesday night. Bell had no play at first base on the bouncer by Todd Benzinger, so he wheeled around and tried to catch pinch hitter Gary Thurman off third base. The only problem was, Bell didn't have his feet planted and the ball sailed about 20-25 feet wide of third base.

The cutoff play in the 15th was nothing of the kind. The Orioles had George Brett overcommitted on a line drive to right field. Joe Orsulak, who entered the game leading the major leagues with 11 outfield assists, made a seemingly perfect throw behind Brett, but Bell ran out and cut it off -- though no one called for a cut.

"I think we would have got him," said first baseman Randy Milligan, who watched a five-RBI performance go to waste. "There was no reason to cut the ball off."

Oates insists that Bell will continue to play second base in the absence of injured Bill Ripken, even though veteran Tim Hulett is the more dependable defensive player.

"We have to find out about Juan," Oates said. "I guess I'm just stubborn. A majority of our people think that Juan is a bona fide major-league prospect. The only way to find out if that's true is to play him and that's what we're going to do."

Bell kept the focus off another strange performance. Designated hitter Sam Horn tied a major-league record when he struck out six times, then incurred the manager's wrath when he finally hit the ball.

He sent a shot to the outer reaches of right-center field in the top of the 15th, then stood and watched the ball under the apparent assumption that it would clear the fence. It missed by a foot or so and Horn almost was thrown out at second base, prompting a reprimand from Oates.

Oates has spoken to him before on this very subject. Horn stood at the plate and watched a home run in Boston and was told in no uncertain terms that a repeat performance would not be tolerated. He was just fortunate that he recovered in time to slide safely into second base, or the angry manager might have had even more to say.

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