MINNEAPOLIS -- Say this for the Orioles' relievers: They are consistent.
The relievers failed on Wednesday and again on Thursday. But the coup de grace came in a 12-9 loss to Minnesota last night, when the Orioles hit four home runs, built leads of up to six runs and still lost when the bullpen allowed nine runs in its last three innings of work.
Thus far in 1995, the bullpen has a cumulative ERA of 13.50. The Orioles have allowed 24 runs, and 18 have come after the fifth inning.
Left-hander Jesse Orosco said, "We're not looking too good out of the bullpen right now."
Phil Regan, seeking his first victory as a major-league manager, tried Alan Mills last night. He tried Armando Benitez and Jesse Orosco, Jamie Moyer and Doug Jones. He tried everybody, and everybody contributed in their own small way -- or big way -- to the defeat.
"It's just a tough game to lose," said Mills. "We had every opportunity to win it."
The Orioles led 6-0 in the third inning, on homers by Cal Ripken, Andy Van Slyke and Matt Nokes. The Twins came back and tied the score at 6, and, again, the Orioles established the lead, when Rafael Palmeiro hit a three-run homer in the top of the seventh.
But Jerald Clark hit a bases-empty homer in the bottom of the seventh, drawing Minnesota within two runs.
The bottom of the eighth was the worst possible nightmare for a club trying to win its first game of the season, inept relieve combined with seeing-eye, artificial-turf hits and broken-bat bloopers. "Stupid hits," third baseman Leo Gomez called them.
Van Slyke said, "A lot of the hits that they got would've been been sucked up by the grass. They out-bleeded us, and we out-homered them. You usually don't lose ballgames when that happens."
Regan said, 'I don't know how many broken-bat hits they had, and bloopers they had, but they did and we didn't and that's baseball."
Mills was on the mound when the eighth started, but before the inning ended, Regan had used four relievers, who gave up five runs.
Mills allowed a single to Matt Walbeck, a walk to Chuck Knoblauch. Exit Mills.
Enter Benitez. He struck out Scott Leius and got two quick strikes on Kirby Puckett. However, Puckett fought off an inside fastball, his bat shattering, and bounced a chopper toward the shortstop hole ever so slowly.
Ever so slowly, the ball skipped past the glove of third baseman Gomez, who had been playing on the line. Past shortstop Ripken. Killing them softly. One run scored. Exit Benitez.
Enter Orosco, to pitch to the left-hand hitting Matt Merullo, the matchup that Regan wanted. Merullo singled, tying the game at 9. Exit Orosco.
Enter Jones. Pinch hitter Alex Cole singled, and the Twins led for the first time, 10-9. They added two more runs.
"Every team has losses like that over the course of the year," Van Slyke said. "You just hope they don't add up.
"Right now it's pretty tough on the pitching staff. . . . The bullpen's been used a lot in the three games we've played. It's a physically demanding time right now for the pitching staff."
The Twins can relate, after being battered by the Orioles. Ripken homered in the second inning, and two batters later, Van Slyke hit his second of the season.
The Orioles scored four more runs in the third, the rally being capped by a monstrous two-run homer by catcher Nokes.
But a six-run cushion means nothing when your bullpen is giving up a run and a half per inning, when your team ERA is 7.50.
Jeff Reboulet and Puckett hit back-to-back homers in the third against starter Sid Fernandez, and the Twins scored another run in the fourth, and Fernandez was gone.
Orioles reliever Mike Oquist did the job for 2 1/3 innings. He got the final two outs of the fourth inning, then retired the Twins in order in the fifth. Clark struck out and Kevin Maas popped out to start the sixth.
However, his luck and that of the Orioles' turned in a big way. Meares blooped a single over the infield and Walbeck slapped an artificial surface single through the right side.
Oquist walked Knoblauch to load the bases, and Regan called for left-hander Moyer to face pinch-hitter Chip Hale. Twins manager Tom Kelly replaced Hale with Leius after Moyer was announced.
After the Orioles lost Thursday night, Regan said he thought his relievers were, in general, throwing well. The Twins clocked Benitez at 98 mph Thursday, Mills at 93. It was just a matter, Regan said, of getting the big out in a critical situation.
But Leius rapped a single to left, scoring two runs. Mills replaced Moyer, and Puckett singled, scoring the tying run. A 6-0 lead was gone.
"Again," Regan said, "it was just a matter of not getting the big out for us."
For the Orioles' bullpen, it has been a matter of not getting anybody out.
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Kevin Brown (7-9, 4.82 in 1994) vs. Twins' LaTroy Hawkins (major-league debut).
RIPKEN ON SHORT LIST
The Orioles' Cal Ripken played in his 2,000th game as a shortstop last night, becoming the 13th player in major-league history to reach that milestone. The leaders:
Player ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... Games
Luis Aparicio ... ... ... ... ... .... 2,581
Ozzie Smith* ... ... ... ... ... ..... 2,420
Larry Bowa ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 2,222
Luke Appling ... ... ... ... .... .... 2,218
Dave Concepcion ... ... .... .... .... 2,178
Rabbit Maranville .... .... .... .... 2,153
Bill Dahlen .... .... .... .... ..... 2,132
Bert Campaneris .... .... .... .... .. 2,097
Tommy Corcoran ... ... .... .... ..... 2,073
Alan Trammell* .... .... .... .... ... 2,036
Roy McMillan ... .... .... .... ..... 2,028
Pee Wee Reese ... ..... .... .... ... 2,014
Cal Ripken * .... .... ..... .... ... 2,000
Source: Milestones and Memories