DETROIT -- Of all the Detroit Tigers, Rob Deer has the highest home run ratio and the lowest on-base percentage. What he does best is play long ball. The rest he leaves to his playmates.
Last night, while teammates Mickey Tettleton (eight) and Kirk Gibson (six) were hitting home runs, Deer helped beat the Orioles by not swinging the bat. The free-swinging slugger walked in his last two at-bats, setting up a tying run in the seventh inning and the winning run in the ninth.
It was a one-out, bases-loaded single by Lou Whitaker in the final at-bat that officially pinned a 4-3 defeat on the Orioles and reliever Todd Frohwirth (2-3). But it was the second unexpected walk of the night for Deer that put everything in motion.
"I got ahead of him and pitched him the same way I've had success against him before," said Frohwirth. "I don't feel bad about the way I pitched to him, except the last pitch should've been closer.
"I threw him breaking balls away and those are pitches he usually goes after. This time he didn't. The last pitch was too far outside, but other than that I did what I wanted to do."
After the walk, Milt Cuyler got an infield hit on a high bouncer that barely eluded Frohwirth, and Tony Phillips drew a walk to load the bases. Frohwirth was not happy with the calls of plate umpire Greg Kosc on the pitches to Phillips, but blamed himself for Whitaker's hit.
"I didn't pitch well at all and I didn't think well at all," said Frohwirth. "It's the worst I've been [this year].
"Whitaker hit a slider, and I should have known he was sitting on something slow. I had thrown the fastball by him, and that should have told me what he was doing. But it didn't register."
It was a bad night all around for Frohwirth, who an inning earlier had given up a titanic home run to Gibson, his first at Tiger Stadium since leaving Detroit as a free agent after the 1987 season. That gave the Tigers a temporary 3-2 lead, which lasted only until Brady Anderson could victimize Mike Henneman with his third homer of the year while leading off the ninth inning.
But the Orioles, who had rejected many chances to chase Detroit starter John Doherty earlier in the game, couldn't capitalize on an opportunity to do severe damage to Henneman. Harold Reynolds followed Anderson's homer with a double to right field.
Struggling to score runs, Orioles manager Johnny Oates opted for a safety-first measure in an attempt to get the lead run. Mark McLemore, the club's leading hitter who had a single, double and walk in four previous plate appearances, pushed a sacrifice bunt in front of the plate, enabling Reynolds to move to third base.
That, however, made it academic for Detroit manager Sparky Anderson to order an intentional walk to Cal Ripken to set up a potential double-play with the struggling Glenn Davis coming to the plate. Davis, hitless in four previous at-bats, got ahead 2-0 in the count, but ended up looking at a third strike on a 2-2 pitch. Tim Hulett then grounded into a force play and the Orioles' last threat was extinguished.
Anytime the Orioles match the Tigers in home runs (David Segui hit his first of the year in addition to the one by Anderson) their chances of winning should improve dramatically. But such was not the case last night.
The Tigers (21-13) were equally erratic, but much more opportunistic than the Orioles (13-20). Despite his third blown save, and second in a week on a game-tying leadoff homer, Henneman (1-0) managed to avoid defeat, whereas Frohwirth couldn't.
The end result was a waste of a strong effort by starter Rick Sutcliffe, who pitched 6 2/3 strong innings, but didn't completely escape blame. It was his two-out walk to Deer in the seventh that set up a single by Phillips that tied the game, 2-2.
"It's real frustrating," said Sutcliffe. "We're digging a big hole for ourselves. We have a chance to pick up some ground -- these games [gainst division contenders] are like two games."
Except for the first, the Orioles had men on base in every inning, but were unable to deliver the big hit. They finished the night with a total of 12 runners left on base, six in scoring position, and all in the last six innings.
The situation was compounded by three runners being thrown out trying to steal. In the third inning, when Chris Hoiles, Damon Buford and Anderson singled for a 1-0 lead, the latter two were thrown out and Ripken was wiped out on a hit-and-run play in the second inning.
Normally an excellent control pitcher, Detroit starter John Doherty constantly got himself in trouble. He entered the game with eight walks, one intentional in 44 2/3 innings.
By the time he left, after 7 2/3 innings, he had matched those numbers. Doherty surpassed his previous major-league high of four walks in a game by the fifth inning.
Meanwhile, Sutcliffe methodically took a no-hitter into the fifth inning before being jarred by Tettleton's eighth home run of the year. The Tigers had two more runners in the inning, on a single by Scott Livingstone and a walk to Milt Cuyler.
But in between Sutcliffe struck out Deer and then got the dangerous Phillips to fly to right field for the third out. An inning later, Gibson lashed a triple to center field with two outs, but was stranded when Tettleton popped up on a 3-2 pitch.