For about five hours yesterday the Orioles were in sole possession of first place. Granted it was by the slimmest of margins (.001), but considering that they had once been nine games under .500 (21-30), it had been a remarkable journey.
Nobody was more aware of the Orioles' position than RicSutcliffe, and he took it as almost a personal affront that the standings were juggled before the end of the night. Despite the right-hander logging his second complete game, the Orioles were unable to overcome an early deficit and lost, 4-2, to the Minnesota Twins before another capacity crowd at Camden Yards.
The loss dropped the Orioles into a tie for third place with thDetroit Tigers in the American League's Eastern Division, a half-game behind the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees, who are tied for the lead.
Except for two pitches, a two-run homer by Kent Hrbek in thfirst inning and a two-run triple by Pat Meares in the fourth, Sutcliffe pitched as well as he has all year. "I think he has a lot to be encouraged about," pitching coach Dick Bosman said.
But there was no consolation for Sutcliffe (8-5). "Encouraged, fome, is not a good word," he said. "We had first place in our grasp -- and that's the goal of everybody in here.
"We can't be content to hang close like we did last year. We've got to get the lead and take off. A lot of good things happened to me personally [last night], but that's not enough."
The Orioles' offense, which has been potent of late, warestricted to two bases-empty home runs by Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux inthe fifth inning. Right-hander Kevin Tapani, who had not won since June 10, broke a personal five-game losing streak by spacing eight hits over seven innings.
Tapani (4-11) ensured his victory by pitching out of bases-loaded, no-out situation in the fourth inning, the game's turning point as far as the Orioles were concerned.
"You have to give him a lot of credit, he made some greapitches when he had to," said Sutcliffe.
Hrbek's first-inning home run was not the same kind of monster shot he hit the night before (with two men on base), but it had enough to get into the right-center-field seats. It came after a costly error by Mark McLemore, who was starting his third game at third base.
There were two outs and the count was 2-and-0 on Hrbek, thkind of situation Sutcliffe routinely picks to pitch around a dangerous left-handed hitter. "It was a backup slider, and it was a ball," Sutcliffe said.
"When he [Hrbek] hit it, he said, 'that's not going any place,' buI pitched a lot of years in [Chicago's] Wrigley Field, and I know what can happen when the ball gets into the air."
The experiment of moving McLemore to third base has gotten off to a shaky start, but neither the infielder nor manager Johnny Oates is discouraged.
"It's a challenge to me, and it's another way that I can help the club," McLemore said. "I'm working at it."
Oates said he is far from discouraged.
"We're asking a lot out of that young man," he said. "We didn't ask him to be a Hall of Fame right fielder, and we don't expect him to be a Hall of Fame third baseman. It's not easy, believe me."
Shane Mack, who got life when his foul pop twisted out of reacof first baseman David Segui and into the stands, reached on McLemore's error to start the game. Chuck Knoblauch followed with a single to right, but Kirby Puckett's sharp grounder was turned into a double play.
Shortly thereafter Hrbek hit the ball into Bleacherville, and thTwins had the early lead for the third straight time in the series. This time they made it stand up.
Three innings later the Twins' doubled their advantage to 4-when Meares tripled after a two-out single by Mike Pagliarulo and a walk to Dave McCarty. "I didn't talk to him, but I'm sure that's a pitch Sut would like to have back," Oates said.
"He made some good pitches, and he got away with some. Thaone was up too much."
In the bottom half of the inning, the Orioles were presented theifirst opportunity against Tapani, but were unable to capitalize.
Harold Baines opened with a single, and Ripken reached on aerrorby Pagliarulo. Chris Hoiles walked to load the bases with no outs.
But the threat ended meekly with three soft fly balls by SeguiHarold Reynolds and Jeffrey Hammonds, and all three runners were stranded.
"It was the key to the game," Tapani said. "In a situation like thayou assume they'll get one across. We got a little lucky that those fly balls weren't hit quite deep enough. I was able to make my pitches, and good things happened.
"You watch them [the Orioles] the last two nights, and you knothey have a good offensive club. They were hitting a lot of good pitches [in the first two games of the series]."
The impact of the fourth-inning failure was emphasized an inninlater when Anderson led off with his eighth home run, and two batters later Devereaux added another bases-empty homer. The home run was the second in two games and the seventh of the year for Devereaux.
Sutcliffe did not allow a hit after the triple by Meares and retired the last 15 hitters.
After Tapani left, the Twins used three relievers. Rick Aguilerworked the last inning for his 24th save.
Twins first: Mack safe on third baseman McLemore's fielding error. Knoblauch singled to right, Mack to second. Puckett grounded into double play, second baseman Reynolds to shortstop Ripken to first baseman Segui, Mack to third, Knoblauch forced at second. Hrbek homered to right on 2-0 count, Mack and Hrbek scored. Winfield flied to center fielder Devereaux. 2 runs, 2 hits, 1 error, 0 left on. Twins 2, Orioles 0.
Twins fourth: Winfield struck out. Harper flied to left fielder Anderson. Pagliarulo singled to left. McCarty walked, Pagliarulo to second. Meares tripled to right center, Pagliarulo and McCarty scored. Mack popped to first baseman Segui. 2 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Twins 4, Orioles 0.
Orioles fifth: Anderson homered down the right field line on 3-1 count. McLemore lined to center fielder Mack. Devereaux homered to right on 0-1 count. Baines grounded to second baseman Knoblauch. Ripken grounded to shortstop Meares. 2 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors, 0 left on. Twins 4, Orioles 2.
Twins first baseman Kent Hrbek last night moved into a tie for eighth place on the list of career homers against the Orioles:
No. Player .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. HR
1. Harmon Killebrew .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 70
2. Mickey Mantle .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 44
3. Reggie Jackson .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 40
(tie) Al Kaline .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... 40
5. Rocky Colavito .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 39
6. Jim Rice .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 36
7. Frank Howard .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... 35
8. Carl Yastrzemski .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 33
(tie) Kent Hrbek* .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. . 33