The Baltimore Orioles are banking heavily on the continuing development of their youthful starting rotation, but right-hander Jose Mesa appears to be going in the opposite direction.
How ragged was it? Mesa gave up six runs on six hits and six walks to stake the Indians to a four-run lead, and it would have been worse if outfielder Joe Orsulak had not tied a club record with three outfield assists in the first five innings.
The Orioles staged a dramatic, but unsuccessful comeback attempt, and their three-game winning streak officially ended when Mike Devereaux grounded into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded in the ninth.
Mesa fell to 5-10 after beginning the season as the most effective pitcher in the Orioles rotation. His ERA rose to 5.96, which doesn't exactly make him look like an automatic candidate for the 1992 rotation anymore.
"I think it's very obvious that he's not nearly the pitcher that he was at the end of last year and the beginning of this year," manager John Oates said. "We have to find out why.
"The way he started out the year, it looked like he was going to be our ace. Somehow, we've got to get him back on board."
The Indians got a strong effort from rookie right-hander Charles Nagy, who gave up a two-run homer to Cal Ripken in the first inning and then settled down to pitch eight solid innings and win his ninth game of the year.
Right-hander Tommy Kramer made his major-league debut for the Indians in the ninth, but stayed around only long enough to give up back-to-back doubles to Ripken and Sam Horn and a walk to Randy Milligan to bring the tying run to the plate with no one out. Steve Olin came on to give up two hits and complicate the situation further, but finally got the dramatic double-play ball to record his 11th save.
The Orioles had held out for three days, but they finally registered their 82nd defeat and guaranteed themselves a losing season.
Though Mesa was anything but sharp in his second start since coming back from the disabled list, club officials say the elbow inflammation that sidelined him from Aug. 21 to Sept. 7 is no longer a problem.
"There was plenty of velocity up there," Oates said, "but there wasn't anything consistently in the strike zone. It's tough to pitch when you throw about 33 percent strikes. That makes it tough."
Mesa walked two batters in the first inning, and both of them scored. He walked two more in the second, and one of them scored. He allowed eight runners in the first three innings and survived that long largely on the strength of someone else's arm.
Orsulak's three assists in a single game tied a club record for outfielders that was equaled most recently by John Shelby in 1983. His major-league-leading 17 assists also equal a club record for outfielders, set by Chuck Diering in the Orioles' inaugural season of 1954.
Orsulak got rookie James Thome trying to stretch a leadoff single in the second inning. Then he threw out Albert Belle doing the same in the third for his 16th assist of the year. The record-tying assist came with the bases loaded in the fifth, when Orsulak settled under a medium fly ball by Jose Gonzalez and threw out Reggie Jefferson trying to tag up and score from third.
His defensive performance notwithstanding, the Orioles fell behind on a run-scoring double by Belle and a sacrifice fly by Jefferson in the first, but got even on a milestone, two-run homer by Ripken in the bottom of the inning.
It was the 28th home run of the year by Ripken, matching a career high set during his Rookie of the Year season in 1982. The two RBI raised his season total to 94, his highest since 1987.
But the Indians took advantage of Mesa's inability to find the plate again in the second, when Felix Fermin followed the two walks with a two-out, RBI single to put Cleveland back in the lead, 3-2.
Mesa settled down temporarily, but his control problems returned in the fifth. The Indians loaded the bases on a single and two more walks with no one out before Oates brought on long reliever Dave Johnson to try and restore order.
Johnson struck out Belle to get within a double-play grounder of escaping the jam, but Jefferson dropped a bloop single into left field and Carlos Martinez bounced a sharp one-hopper off the wrist of Leo Gomez for a two-run double that gave the Indians a 6-2 lead.
Indians first: Cole walked. Fermin struck out. Cole stole second. Baerga walked. Belle doubled down the right field line, Cole scored, Baerga to third. Jefferson hit sacrifice fly to left fielder Orsulak, Baerga scored. Martinez struck out. 2 runs, 1 hit, 0 errors, 1 left on. Indians 2, Orioles 0.
Orioles first: Devereaux struck out. Orsulak singled to second. C.Ripken homered down the left field line on 0-1 count, Orsulak and C.Ripken scored. Horn singled to right. Milligan grounded into double play, shortstop Fermin to second baseman Baerga to first baseman Jefferson. 2 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 0 left on. Orioles 2, Indians 2.
Indians second: Thome singled to left center and, Thome out advancing, left fielder Orsulak to second baseman B.Ripken. Gonzalez walked. Gonzalez stole second. Skinner struck out. Cole walked. Fermin singled to left, Gonzalez scored, Cole to third. Baerga grounded out to second baseman B.Ripken. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Indians 3, Orioles 2.
Indians fifth: Cole singled to left. Cole stole second. Fermin walked. Baerga walked, Cole to third, Fermin to second. Johnson relieved Mesa. Belle struck out. Jefferson singled to left, Cole scored, Fermin to third, Baerga to second. Martinez doubled to third, Fermin and Baerga scored, Jefferson to third. Thome intentionally walked. Gonzalez flied out to left fielder Orsulak, and Jefferson out advancing, left fielder Orsulak to catcher Melvin. 3 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Indians 6, Orioles 2 .
Orioles ninth: Kramer pitching. C.Ripken doubled to right. Horn doubled to right, C.Ripken scored. Milligan walked. Olin relieved Kramer. Martinez singled to left, Horn to third, Milligan to second. Evans, pinch hitting for Gomez, struck out. Anderson singled to left, Horn scored, Milligan to third, Martinez to second. Davis, pinch hitting for Bell, safe on third baseman Thome's fielding error, Milligan scored, Martinez to third, Anderson to second. Mercedes ran for Martinez. Devereaux grounded into double play, second baseman Baerga to shortstop Fermin to first baseman Jefferson, Davis out. 3 runs, 4 hits, 1 error, 2 left on. Indians 6, Orioles 5.