ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Something awful happened to the Orioles after all those glowing preseason reviews, all the anticipation of the indomitable rotation and the powerful lineup. Something really terrible.
They were forced to play games.
Even with ace Mike Mussina on the mound and a 4-0 lead in the second inning, the Orioles found a way to lose to the California Angels, 6-5, last night.
They also suffered the indignity of having their former closer, Lee Smith, finish them off in the ninth inning. With runners on first and second in the ninth, Kevin Bass pinch-hit for Jeffrey Hammonds -- even though Bass was 2-for-19 lifetime against Smith -- and Bass hit into a game-ending, 4-6-3 double play.
It should be noted that Smith has more saves (12) than the Orioles do victories (11).
The Orioles have lost 18 of their 29 games and, with the Boston victory over Oakland yesterday, they are seven games out of first place. It wasn't until July 29 that the Orioles fell that far behind in 1994.
Mussina (3-3) was uncharacteristically wild, walking four and giving up seven hits and six runs in 6 2/3 innings. It was he -- not Arthur Rhodes or Sid Fernandez -- who gave away the Orioles' early and large advantage.
The Orioles scored four runs in the top of the second inning, all with two outs. When the Orioles, who have been notoriously weak in the clutch this year, score four runs with two outs on a night Mussina is pitching, they win.
In most years, anyway. This season the Orioles have had an excruciating habit of doing just enough to lose. They haven't been blown out of many games; they just identify new and different ways of blowing games.
This was different, Mussina giving up a four-run lead, and especially in light of how well he seemed to be throwing in the first couple of innings. He struck out the first two hitters he faced, threw a scoreless second inning and retired Damion Easley to start the third.
Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina hit a single up the middle, and Tony Phillips singled to end an 0-for-11 streak, and then Mussina did something he never does. Mussina, who had allowed only three walks before last night, walked center fielder Jim Edmonds, a .262 hitter, loading the bases and bringing up the Angels' 3-4 hitters, Tim Salmon and Chili Davis.
But Davis never got a chance to hit with runners on base, because Salmon cleared them. Mussina tried throwing a fastball inside but left it too far over the plate. Boom. Salmon drove it far over the center-field wall, a grand slam.
The Angels, who increased their lead in the AL West to 2 1/2 games, broke the 4-4 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning. Spike Owen hammered a ball into the right-center-field gap, an easy double, and when center fielder Andy Van Slyke -- who had committed an error in the fifth inning -- took an odd route on the ball, Owen ended up on third with a triple.
Van Slyke's gaffe became meaningless, though, when Easley doubled to left, Owen trotting home.
Mussina escaped further damage that inning. But in the bottom of the seventh, he again couldn't get a pitch far enough inside, this to J. T. Snow, and Snow pulled the fastball down the line, just inside the foul pole and into the empty right-field seats for what proved to be the game-winning run. Snow, who the Angels would've dumped for close to nothing early last season, now has seven homers and 26 RBIs.
The Orioles drew to within a run, at 6-5, when Harold Baines hit one of his trademark, opposite-field homers off reliever Troy Percival, his fifth homer of the season. This is the one thing the Orioles do well, hit the long ball. They have 35 this season.
The Orioles' second-inning rally materialized out of almost nothing, but developed into something very big. Baines had singled to lead off the inning, but Chris Hoiles and Van Slyke flied out.
Jeff Manto singled sharply to center, however, and Bret Barberie's infield hit loaded the bases for Brady Anderson. The Orioles left fielder appeared to be locking in on Angels starter Shawn Boskie's delivery early in the count. And when Boskie (3-0) tried zipping a low fastball past him with the count 1-2, Anderson hit a single through the middle. Baines and Manto scored.
Hammonds then doubled into the left-field corner, driving home two more runs, his first RBIs since April 30, when he hit a three-run homer against Minnesota.
Boskie hit Rafael Palmeiro in the leg with his next pitch, eliciting a brief and suspicious glance to the mound by the Orioles first baseman. But Boskie closed out the inning by retiring Cal Ripken.
Opponent: California Angels
Site: Anaheim (Calif.) Stadium
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Jamie Moyer (0-1, 4.76) vs. Angels' Mark Langston (3-0, 3.58)