McDonald is stopper once more Orioles look to pitcher to halt four-game skid


It was for this role that Ben McDonald, the Orioles' prize catch of the 1989 free-agent draft, was chosen.

Now, two months into a season in which the Orioles wanted to remove the attendant pressure, they are asking him to be their stopper.

Tonight at Camden Yards against the California Angels, McDonald, 24, will try to stop a season-high four-game losing streak that has bumped the Orioles into second place in the American League East.

He already knows a little about the territory.

"Most of my wins this year have come after a loss," said McDonald, who takes a 5-1 record and 3.40 ERA against the Angels' Julio Valera (2-2, 2.38). "It's real important to go out and throw a good game and give us a chance to win."

He will face a California team that is reeling from a 1-5 road swing and a frightening brush with tragedy. One of two chartered buses the Angels took from New York early yesterday morning careened off the New Jersey Turnpike and overturned. Twelve members of the traveling party were injured.

The most serious was manager Buck Rodgers, who suffered fractures of a rib, elbow and knee. In his absence, coach John Wathan, who managed the Kansas City Royals for three full seasons and parts of two others, will run the club.

The Angels were shut out twice in Boston on the first stop of their three-city, nine-game trip. Then they were swept by the New York Yankees. At 19-20, they are fifth in the AL West.

The Angels' biggest problem during the trip has been a lack of hitting. They have scored 11 runs in six games and are batting a meager .207. What's more, they are 4-10 in one-run games.

McDonald has had some success against the Angels. He was 2-1 against them last season with a 2.53 ERA, including his only complete game, a six-hit, 5-1 victory last May. He is 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA against the Angels lifetime.

But McDonald's last outing, a 14-10 loss in Chicago on Sunday, was less than strong. He was tagged for seven runs in five innings and suffered his first loss. He gave up bases-empty home runs to Tim Raines and Robin Ventura in the first inning, and when centerfielder Mike Devereaux couldn't handle a fly ball that became a two-run homer by Frank Thomas, the White Sox took a 7-6 lead.

"It was a mediocre game [for McDonald]," said pitching coach Dick Bosman. "It was a game where if Devo hangs on to that ball, Ben's in the dugout in the fifth inning with a lead and who knows what happens then.

"It was a mediocre effort, but down the road I expect him to win a few like that."

It also was the start of the Orioles' four-game losing streak. After Chicago, they came home to Camden Yards and were swept by the Oakland Athletics in three games. In those games, they did not pitch, or hit, as well as they had been.

"We were not making pitches," Bosman said. "We did not make any big pitches when we needed them. But you're going to run through streaks like that. We weren't ahead in the count like we've been."

A case of the Orioles' young staff trying to be too fine with Oakland's Bash Brothers?

"Perhaps," Bosman said. "It happens at times. You don't trust your stuff as much as you should. If you trust your stuff, you go after hitters. We got all the big guys out, but it was a couple of little guys who hurt us.

"Out of the 10 [pitchers] who are here, I'm comfortable with seven or eight of them. Which isn't bad. It's an ongoing thing . . . I'm happy with what most of them are doing."

After the 14-10 debacle, the Orioles lost 8-4, 5-3 and 4-2 to the A's. With a little better hitting, they could have avoided the sweep, as they hit just .167 with runners in scoring position.

Yesterday's day off may have a positive effect, at least one player said.

"We're on the same boat now as we were when we lost three in a row to Toronto," said Rick Sutcliffe, the pitching staff's senior member. "The off day comes at a good time. We'll be back out there [in Oakland] in 10 days. This was their week; you've got to give them credit."

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