There was a good news, bad news scenario for the Orioles last night. The good did not prevail.
Fernando Valenzuela turned in easily the most impressive performance of his comeback bid, pitching seven strong innings. But little else went right as the Kansas City Royals ended the Orioles' modest three-game winning streak with a 5-4 victory before 45,415 at Camden Yards.
It should come as no surprise that Mike Macfarlane inflicted most of the damage. The Royals catcher drove in three runs with a first-inning double off Valenzuela and a tie-breaking home run in the eighth inning off reliever Alan Mills (0-2).
With the score tied 3-3, the game turned sour for the Orioles in the last two innings. That's when manager Johnny Oates pushed all of his strategic buttons without getting the desired results.
It all started in the bottom half of the eighth inning, when Harold Baines walked with one out and Jack Voigt was inserted as a pinch runner. It was the logical move, but an inning later it meant that neither Cal Ripken nor Baines got to swing the bat with the tying run on second base.
"That wasn't a tough decision at all," said Oates. "What happens if we get a double and he [Baines] can't score? If you have a marginal runner, maybe it's a different story. But that wasn't a tough call.
"If I had known we were going to be behind and he was going to bat in the ninth inning, then I wouldn't have made the move. But I have to play the game the way it is at the time."
The Orioles failed to score in the eighth only because Kansas City center fielder Brian McRae made a sensational diving catch of Mark McLemore's line drive for the third out. Moments later McRae figured prominently in the Royals' decisive two-run, ninth-inning rally.
Macfarlane started the inning with his second homer of the year. It was the sixth of his career against the Orioles, the most he has LTC hit against any opponent.
Macfarlane went into the game hitting .233 -- but against the Orioles he has a career average of .357, the highest of any active player. "He's just one of those guys we struggle against," said Oates. "We don't get the ball where we want it on him and he hurts us.
"In batting practice you tell them what you're throwing and where you're throwing it and they don't hit all of them in the seats. But it seems like he does it that way to us."
Mills, who had pitched a scoreless eighth after relieving Valenzuela, retired the next two hitters after Macfarlane's homer. But Greg Gagne hit a line drive that got over McLemore's head in right and went for a triple.
Oates then summoned rookie left-hander Brad Pennington with the switch-hitting McRae the next scheduled hitter. McRae was hitting .217 right-handed and .304 left-handed before last night's game. But for his career he has hit 50 points higher from the right side (.282) than he has from the left (.232) -- and those were the numbers that held up.
McRae lined a single to right to drive in what turned out to be the deciding run before Hubie Brooks grounded out to end the inning.
In the bottom half of the ninth inning, Harold Reynolds led off with a single against reliever Jeff Montgomery, who hung on to claim his seventh save. After pinch hitter Tim Hulett struck out, Brady Anderson doubled into the right-field corner, scoring Reynolds.
Mike Devereaux hit an infield grounder for the second out, leaving Kansas City manager Hal McRae with a decision. After conferring with Montgomery, he decided to walk Ripken intentionally, putting the winning run on first base.
That left the game up to Segui, hitting for Voigt, and his routine grounder to second baseman Jose Lind ended the game.
Macfarlane, who almost doubled his RBI total last night (he now has seven), said he can't explain his success against the Orioles. "I don't know -- I got my first major-league hit at Memorial Stadium, and I feel real comfortable when I come here," he said.
"But I don't do anything different. It [his home run] was a fastball from the middle in. I haven't seen too many right-handers and Alan [Mills] has gotten me out quite a few times."
After a first-inning misadventure when both teams scored three times, Valenzuela and Mark Gubicza were in control through seven innings. McRae got a two-out single in the second inning, but Valenzuela proceeded to retire the next 12 hitters.
The veteran left-hander did not allow a hit after McRae's single. He departed after throwing 111 pitches in seven innings and getting 19 of the last 22 batters.
It was the longest Valenzuela had lasted in a major-league game since Sept. 14, 1990, when he pitched a complete game against Cincinnati for his last big-league victory.
Gubicza almost lasted as long -- he left with two outs in the seventh -- but the right-hander encountered more difficulty than Valenzuela along the way. He gave up three singles in the third inning, but the Orioles were unable to score, primarily because Anderson was doubled off first when Devereaux flied out on a hit-and-run play.
Ensuing singles by Ripken and Baines (2-for-2 plus two walks) went for naught when Glenn Davis struck out to end the inning. The Orioles had another mini-threat in the fifth, when Devereaux grounded a double down the left-field line, but Ripken popped out and, after Baines was walked intentionally when the count reached 3-and-0, Davis grounded out.
Valenzuela's only real trouble spot after the first came in the last inning he worked. Phil Hiatt walked to lead off and went to second on Lind's infield grounder.
But Valenzuela got Greg Gagne on a grounder to Ripken, on which Davis made a good play to pull the throw out of the dirt. McRae then flared a soft liner to Reynolds, ending the inning and Valenzuela's work for the night -- and setting up the ninth-inning finish.