MINNEAPOLIS -- The failure of the Orioles' bullpen in the first two games, that's fathomable. But getting beat because of Cal Ripken's defense -- or lack thereof -- that's something wholly unexpected.
A paltry performance by the Orioles' relievers and a couple of errors by Ripken helped the Minnesota Twins beat the Orioles last night, 7-4. The Metrodome crowd of 26,425 was the smallest ever for a home opener at the Metrodome.
New manager Phil Regan removed starter Ben McDonald after five innings with the Orioles ahead 4-3. But an exhausted and lame-armed McDonald might've been more effective than the bullpen, as it turned out.
The first reliever in the line of fire was Brad Pennington, who lasted one-third of an inning and surrendered the tying and go-ahead runs in the sixth.
Next up: Alan Mills, who hit David McCarty with his first pitch and went downhill from there. He allowed two insurance runs in the seventh, both scoring on Jerald Clark's two-run single with the bases loaded.
To that point, these were the cumulative stats of the Orioles bullpen, going back to the 5-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday: four innings, 10 hits, nine runs (seven earned), six ,, walks and three strikeouts.
The bullpen problems didn't prove contagious, however, with Twins closer Rick Aguilera striking out the side in the ninth to record his first save.
Both of the errors by Ripken, who made only three errors in the entire 1990 season, led to Minnesota runs.
Shocker No. 1: Ripken mishandled a grounder by Twins left fielder Marty Cordova in the second inning, and Cordova eventually came around to score the Twins' first run.
Shocker No. 2: With two outs in the fifth inning and Scott Leius on third, Alex Cole hit a bouncer up the middle to Ripken, positioned perfectly against the speedy center fielder. Ripken reached down, no problem, and . . .
The ball bounced off Ripken's glove. He reached to pick up the ball, saw he had no chance to throw out Cole, saw Leius crossing the plate. Ripken's body jerked as he vented angrily, and he kicked at the dirt near second base. Shades of Joe DiMaggio in the 1947 World Series.
The second error sent press box archivists scrambling for their ,, record books, and this is what they found: the last time Ripken made two errors in one game was June 1, 1993, in Oakland. A span of 224 games.
The Orioles allowed 19 unearned runs during the entire 1994 season.Already in 1995, they've made four errors and allowed four unearned runs.
Leius' run tied the score at 3-all, and how often do you see it, the guy who makes an error leads off the next inning; Ripken singled to start the sixth, and would score on Chris Hoiles' flyout to center, giving the Orioles a 4-3 advantage.
The shifts in momentum continued, however, when the Twins scored two runs against the Orioles' bullpen in the bottom of the sixth and assumed a 5-4 lead.
Pennington, in relief of McDonald, yielded a one-out double to Clark and walked Cordova. Matt Merullo lined a double into right, scoring both runs. Mills replaced Pennington and hit McCarty with his first pitch, but after Leius singled, McCarty effectively NTC ended the Minnesota rally by getting caught in a rundown.
This was the sixth time the score had either changed hands or been tied. The first time the Orioles led came in the second inning, courtesy of newcomer Andy Van Slyke.
The Orioles signed Van Slyke last week after he passed a two-day audition. Good thing that audition hadn't extended through Opening Day, when Van Slyke gave a strong performance of a fading veteran struggling to recover from serious back problems.
He went 0-for-3, striking out once, but that wasn't particularly significant; all of the Orioles couldn't find a clue against the forkballs and sliders of Kansas City starter Kevin Appier.
His defense, however, was another story. A bad one. Van Slyke (( misread a ball off the bat of Royals center fielder Tom Goodwin in the sixth inning, and the pop fly fell in front of him for a single, leading to K.C.'s first run. Later, Van Slyke and Sherman Obando made like monster trucks, crashing into each other on a fly ball. That mistake cost the Orioles two more runs.
Van Slyke, then, had plenty of cause for redemption when he came to bat in the second inning, with Hoiles on first and two outs.
The Orioles' rally that inning actually began with an out. Ripken, leading off the inning, fell behind in the count to Minnesota starter Kevin Tapani, but doggedly stayed alive, reaching out to foul off a succession of 2-2 pitches -- seven in all.
Before Ripken finally grounded out to shortstop, Tapani had thrown 12 pitches. One hitter, 12 pitches, far too many in a month when starting pitchers are laboring to reach the sixth inning. Harold Baines lined out on the first pitch, but Hoiles extended the count to 3-2 and drew the walk.
Tapani went deep into the count again against Van Slyke, three balls and two strikes. Perhaps drained from his duels with Ripken and Hoiles, Tapani left a pitch over the plate for Van Slyke, who tomahawked it over the blue baggy in right field. Orioles 2, Twins 1.
Leo Gomez bounced a single between short and third, and at that moment, two outs into the second inning, the Orioles had as many hits against Tapani -- two -- as they had in nine innings of trying to hit Appier and his relievers in the sea
son opener. In addition, Van Slyke's homer was the Orioles' first extra-base hit of the year.
The Twins tied the score in the bottom of the second, McCarty's infield groundout scoring Cordova from third. Cordova had reached on Ripken's first error.
The Orioles continued to peck away at Tapani in the third inning. Second baseman Bret Barberie, who had one hit in 19 at-bats during spring training and had followed that by going hitless in his first four at-bats of the regular season, shot a one-out single to right, then moved to second on a Rafael Palmeiro's groundout.
Ripken hit an infield single, Barberie advancing to third. Then Baines singled, scoring Barberie.
The Orioles threatened again in the fourth, after Van Slyke opened the inning with a double into right-center field, a liner skipping all the way to the fence. Gomez lifted a high fly to right, and Van Slyke tagged at second. But Kirby Puckett's one-bounce throw to third nipped the runner.
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis
TV/Radio: 3 Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Sid Fernandez (6-6, 5.15 in 1994) vs. Twins' Pat Mahomes (9-5, 4.73 in 1994).