MINNEAPOLIS -- The weather may be warming up, but things are beginning to snowball on the beleaguered Orioles, who suffered another significant setback during last night's 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins at the Metrodome.
The day after Mike Devereaux became the first Oriole to go on the disabled list this year, the hottest hitter on the club joined him on the sidelines.
Designated hitter Harold Baines had to be removed from the game after he strained a muscle in the right side of his rib cage during his third plate appearance. The injury is not considered serious, but it was just the kind of thing the Orioles did not need after losing their 1992 RBI leader for at least five to six weeks.
"I don't think it's that serious -- not to the point of going on the DL [disabled list] or anything," Baines said, "but how long it will take, I don't know."
Baines owns the highest batting average (.344) among the club's regular players, and he had tied an Orioles record earlier in the game by reaching base for the 13th consecutive time. The string ended in his next at-bat, and he had to be removed in the fifth after straining the muscle on a checked swing.
He was examined by Twins team physician Dr. John Stuebs and told to take at least the next couple of days off. But strains in the rib cage are unpredictable, so it is possible Baines could be out longer than that.
The Orioles, who were last in the American League in runs per game nine days ago, had moved into the middle of the pack with a 4-1 homestand in which they averaged 7.8 runs. Now they face the unhappy prospect of finishing up at the Metrodome and heading into a four-game series against the Toronto Blue Jays with their run-scoring potential even more diminished.
If that isn't disturbing enough for manager Johnny Oates, he also has to be wondering when left-hander Arthur Rhodes is going to begin pitching the way he did during the second half of the 1992 season. Rhodes lasted just 3 2/3 innings and gave up four runs on seven hits in suffering his second loss in three decisions.
"He was just good enough to give up four runs in 3 2/3 innings, and that's not quite good enough," Oates said. "What we do now is go back to the drawing board and keep working and keep trying to get better."
Twins right-hander Scott Erickson countered with his best performance of the season, giving up just an unearned run on three hits over seven innings to break a season-opening three-game losing streak and make a dent in the 9.60 ERA he carried into the game.
Erickson turned a three-run lead over to reliever Mike Trombley, but a two-run home run by Chris Hoiles in the eighth inning persuaded Twins manager Tom Kelly to bring on Rick Aguilera, who pitched the final 1 1/3 innings to record his eighth save.
The Metrodome was brimming with subplots. Rhodes and Erickson were going head-to-head for the second time in seven days. Baines was challenging Jim Dwyer's club record for consecutive times on base. Rookie Damon Buford was making his first major-league start, in center field. It was not an uneventful evening.
The Orioles had scored eight runs off Erickson last week at Camden Yards, breaking out of a three-week scoring slump to carry Rhodes to his first victory of 1993. Rhodes pitched 6 2/3 innings in that game and gave up four runs on seven hits to end a season-opening string of three dismal starts.
But he struggled again last night, and his teammates found Erickson much more formidable this time around. The right-hander would have carried a shutout bid through the seventh inning if not for a fourth-inning error by Jeff Reboulet that led to an RBI single by Harold Reynolds.
Rhodes also suffered for an early-inning defensive lapse when Buford's first major-league defensive chance disappeared against the gray/white Teflon roof in the third inning and Kirby Puckett's seemingly routine fly ball fell in for a leadoff triple that would lead to an earned run. But Rhodes would have no one but himself to blame when he took the long walk back to the Orioles clubhouse after only 3 2/3 innings.
He had retired five of the first six batters he faced, only to allow the bottom third of the order to stage a two-out rally for the first run of the game in the second. Rhodes left the game in the fourth after giving up a one-out double to No. 8 hitter Terry Jorgensen and run-scoring hits to Chuck Knoblauch and Shane Mack to give the Twins a three-run lead.
The first month of play has not been good to Rhodes. He has yet to give up fewer than four runs in any start, and his early-season ERA was so inflated going into last night (10.47) that his rocky performance still brought it down slightly (10.35).
"I've been struggling," Rhodes said, "but it's not because I'm down on myself. I'm going to go out and pitch. I just can't go out there and throw the ball over the middle of the plate. That's what I was doing tonight. I've got to mix up my pitches better. I've got to go down to the bullpen [in between starts] and work on my stuff."
The early three-run lead might not have seemed so insurmountable a few days ago when the Orioles were in the midst of their offensive awakening, but the events of the previous two days had taken some of the punch out of their lineup.
The loss of Devereaux figured to take a big bite out of the team's run-production potential, and his loss was felt almost immediately. Buford struggled in the outfield and also looked uncomfortable at the plate.
"He looked about normal for a kid in his first game," Oates said. "He's going to be OK."
Baines ties record
Designated hitter Harold Baines walked in the first inning last night to extend his string of consecutive times on base to 13. That tied the club record set by outfielder Jim Dwyer from Sept. 29-Oct. 2, 1982.
Baines came close to breaking Dwyer's mark in the third inning, but Minnesota Twins shortstop Jeff Reboulet backhanded his sharp ground ball into the gap and threw him out by a couple of steps.
The ground out was the first out recorded by Baines since his first at-bat of Friday night's game against the Kansas City Royals at Oriole Park. In between, he had eight hits and five walks, the same combination that carried Dwyer to the record 11 years earlier.
Baines also was in position to challenge the club record for consecutive hits, his string of eight equaling Brooks Robinson (twice), Bob Johnson (1963) and Don Baylor (1973) for the second longest in club history. The record is held by Ken Singleton, who had 10 straight hits in 1981.
Baines had to leave the game with a strained muscle in his rib cage.