KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If and when the Orioles get around to writing an epitaph for the 1993 season, it very easily could be dated July 5.
What happened here last night almost defied description. On a night when they again found evidence of magic in Fernando Valenzuela's left arm, the Orioles lost a game by the deceptive score of 7-1.
But they didn't lose this one because of poor pitching. Rather, it was an inept offense that deserted Valenzuela.
Hitting against a collection of four relievers with a combined 4.56 ERA, the Orioles managed eight hits, but their best weapon was a wild pitch. Three times they had runners on third base and less than two out and were unable to score.
"It can't get any worse than that," said manager Johnny Oates. "It's tough to believe it could be any worse."
The lack of offense is what set up the crucial elements of the game and forced Oates' hand. The Orioles had no margin for error.
Valenzuela was seven outs away from taking over as the major-league shutout leader (he's tied for the lead with two) when he issued back-to-back walks to Gary Gaetti and Kevin McReynolds in the seventh inning.
Trying to protect a 1-0 lead and having seen enough evidence to suggest the Orioles were finished scoring for the night, Oates didn't hesitate to make a move. The Orioles' bullpen has been the best in the American League all year, but Oates called on it once too often.
Oates brought Brad Pennington into the game because of the hitters Kansas City manager Hal McRae had on his bench -- not the ones in the lineup. Oates preferred the matchup of the rookie left-hander against right-handed hitters, and initially it paid off.
Pennington struck out Hubie Brooks to end the seventh inning, but an inning later he was knee-deep in kerosene faster than you could ask for the matches.
Rico Rossy, with a total of 38 big-league at-bats for a background, lofted a 1-and-0 pitch over the left-field fence with one out in the eighth to tie the score. Two pitches later, Brian McRae did the same thing and the parade was in full swing.
Mark Williamson replaced Pennington after McRae's homer, but he brought little relief to the party. By the time the inning ended the Royals had added five more runs, which was way out of the Orioles' range on this night.
"I didn't think Rossy could take me deep," Pennington said of the first home run. "I was just trying to come at him with hard stuff and he got around on it.
"With McRae, I missed my location and he took me deep, too. But I know he's capable of doing that."
Oates later explained why Pennington was in the game. "He was in there to keep their left-handed hitters out of the game," he said. "Who would you rather face -- George Brett or Rico Rossy?"
In addition to Brett, the Royals also had the left-handed hitting Chris Gwynn (.325).
Asked if he was surprised, as Pennington had been, that Rossy was able to homer in that situation, Oates said: "The odds were probably against it, but anybody who goes up there can do it.
"Maybe he took him for granted. If you do that, if you don't give the guy enough credit, that's your problem."
As ineffective as Pennington and Williamson were last night, however, the game probably was decided much earlier, when the Orioles left runners stranded all over the base paths.
It didn't take them long to get rid of Kansas City starter Kevin Appier, but they did it in unconventional fashion. And it didn't do them any good.
With one out and runners on first and second, Harold Baines hit a line drive through the middle that hit Appier flush on the upper right arm. The ball deflected to third baseman Gary Gaetti, who threw out Baines as the runners advanced.
But that would be the last pitch Appier would throw. Instead of seeking his 10th victory, he settled for a hot shower. Appier was replaced by Bill Sampen, who was followed by three others.
Mark Gubicza picked up his second win in four days, after having lost his first six decisions, by pitching 3 2/3 scoreless innings, making two extraordinary escapes in the process.
After scoring on a wild pitch in the first inning, the Orioles rejected all scoring opportunities the rest of the night as Kansas City manager Hal McRae maneuvered like it was the seventh game of the World Series.
David Segui hit into a double play after Chris Hoiles led off the second with a walk; Cal Ripken grounded into a double play with runners on first and third to end the third; Baines was unable to advance after starting the fourth with a single; and Ripken again hit into an inning-ending double play, this time with the bases loaded and after McRae had made two pitching changes.
Sampen departed in favor of left-hander Frank DiPino after Jeffrey Hammonds singled and Harold Reynolds was hit by a pitch. McLemore loaded the bases with a looping single to left, and Gubicza was summoned to replace DiPino.
Although he'd registered his first win of the year with two scoreless innings against Toronto on Friday and had a 2.05 ERA in his last 14 games, Gubicza brought one particularly ugly statistic into the game. Of the last 13 runners he had inherited, 10 had scored.
But those numbers quickly improved when Ripken hit Gubicza's first pitch directly at shortstop Greg Gagne, who started a routine double play.
Just when the Orioles thought they had weathered the worst of their offensive ineptness, they took it to a lower level. Baines opened the sixth with his second single of the night and Devereaux followed with a drive into the left-center-field gap that bounced off the wall.
However, the slow moving Baines had to be held at third on the play and that became the turning point of the inning. Chris Hoiles struck out and, with the infield playing in, Segui did likewise.
Leo Gomez kept the inning alive by coaxing a walk, but Gubicza escaped when Hammonds lined to McRae in center field to end the inning.
Meanwhile, the lack of runs had no effect on Valenzuela, who breezed through the sixth without allowing more than one runner in any inning. But in the seventh, with two outs, he walked Gaetti and Kevin McReynolds and Oates decided not to take any chances with a starter who might be tiring after 105 pitches.
"He was tired," said Oates. "It's better to do it before than after."
He didn't get any disagreement from Valenzuela.
"I think that's the right time," said the veteran left-hander. "When I start to walk the hitters and get the ball up, that's the time. In a close game like that you have to be careful. I think Johnny made the right decision."
That, however, doesn't change the fact that the decision might not have been necessary if the Orioles had been able to put some runs on the scoreboard.
Site: Ewing Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
Orioles starter: Jamie Moyer (4-3, 3.68)
Royals starter: Mark Gardner (4-5, 5.88)
TV: Channels 2, 20
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)
ONE UGLY INNING
A look at the eighth inning of the Royals' 7-1 win over the Orioles last night:
With Brad Pennington pitching, Phil Hiatt flied to center fielder Mike Devereaux. Rico Rossy homered to left on a 1-0 count. Brian McRae homered down the left-field line on a 1-0 count. Mark Williamson relieved Pennington. Greg Gagne doubled to left. Wally Joyner singled to center, scoring Gagne. Mike Macfarlane reached on left fielder Jeffrey Hammonds' fielding error, Joyner moved to second. Gary Gaetti doubled to left, scoring Joyner and moving Macfarlane to third. Kevin McReynolds was walked intentionally. Hubie Brooks doubled down the right-field line, scoring Macfarlane, Gaetti and McReynolds. Brooks was thrown out advancing, right fielder Mark McLemore to first baseman David Segui to catcher Chris Hoiles to third baseman Leo Gomez. Hiatt struck out to end the inning.
7 runs, 6 hits, 1 error, 0 left on. Royals 7, Orioles 1.