CLEVELAND -- Lest anyone think that Curtis Goodwin is some supernatural being, a reincarnation of Ty Cobb or Nap Lajoie or some such baseball legend, the Orioles rookie finally made a mistake last night.
Goodwin misplayed a fly ball into a triple, costing the Orioles a run in a game in which every run was crucial. Spurred by Goodwin's gaffe, the Cleveland Indians won the first game of the three-game series, 4-3.
Orioles left fielder Brady Anderson set an AL record, stealing two bases and pushing his streak of consecutive attempts without being caught to 34, one more than Chicago's Tim Raines, whose streak of 33 is still active. The major-league record is 50, set by Vince Coleman in 1989.
The baseball gods have a sense of humor, and unfortunately, the butt of their jokes the last two days have been the Orioles. On Sunday, Lee Smith saved a game against the Orioles in Camden Yards, and last night, another ex-Oriole, Jose Mesa, saved Cleveland's victory. Another ex-Oriole, Eddie Murray, had two doubles, and is now just 14 hits away from 3,000.
Goodwin stole two bases and went 2-for-3, his seventh straight multi-hit game, and his 10th multi-hit game in his first 11 in the majors. He's hitting .488, and the scary part is, he seems to be improving.
"At this pace," said Anderson, "he should get about 300 hits in 400 at-bats. . . . His first games, he was kind of dribbling the ball through the infield a bit. But the last few games, he's really hitting the ball hard."
His offense has been an ongoing phenomenon -- and has served to mask Goodwin's shaky defense. He seemed, in his first week in the big leagues, to always take a poor first step, coming in when the ball was hit deep, taking a step back when the ball was hit in front of him. But the problem never manifested itself; he's fast enough to make up for his mistakes.
Goodwin looked more comfortable in center field during the weekend series against California, after his eyes were tested, and after he had grown accustomed to playing in a triple-deck stadium for the first time.
But last night, he made a mistake, and it hurt. Cleveland right fielder Wayne Kirby, starting for the slumping Manny Ramirez, hit a liner to center leading off the third.
Goodwin started in, an ill-fated first step, then held his ground.
Anderson said: "He thought the ball wasn't going to travel as far as it did."
"I thought I was going to have to slide for that ball," Goodwin said, "and I saw it rising, rising."
Goodwin realized suddenly that he had misjudged the liner, leaped -- and it went over his glove. Kirby ended up on third with a triple. Two batters later, he scored on Omar Vizquel's grounder to first, and the Indians' gift run cut the Orioles' early lead in half, to 2-1.
"The ball in center probably should've been caught," said Orioles manager Phil Regan. "Against this type of club" -- the Indians are 31-11, and have won nine of their last 10 -- "you just can't afford to give up those type of runs."
Not unless Kevin Brown could pitch exceptionally, and although he gave a gutty performance he was a little ragged (seven innings, eight hits, four runs, seven strikeouts).
Everyone raves about Brown's stuff, and for good reason: His sinking fastball is death on bats. But the movement can be too good, at times; during Brown's last start against Seattle, 56 of his 110 pitches were charted to be balls. Brown's fastball had so much sink that it ran out of the strike zone.
The Indians seemed to understand this, as they waited patiently for Brown to throw the ball in the strike zone. Brown had walked just seven hitters in 61 2/3 innings before facing Cleveland, and last night, he walked four.
"I thought Brown struggled a little bit with his control," Regan said.
But Brown's wayward command finally hurt him in the fourth inning, when the Indians scored three runs and took a 4-2 lead. Albert Belle singled to lead off, and first baseman Murray drove his first double into the left-center-field gap, scoring Belle. Thome popped to third, and Sorrento struck out. Then Pena, batting .233, coaxed a walk to keep the rally alive.
Kirby singled to score Murray, and Kenny Loften singled, reloading the bases. Brown quickly fell behind on the count to Vizquel, three balls and one strike, and Vizquel watched as one of Brown's sinking fastballs darted low and outside. The walk forced Pena home, with the third run of the inning for Cleveland.
"He walked . . . two guys we shouldn't have walked in certain situations," said Regan, referring to the light-hitting Pena and Vizquel (.229).
The Orioles closed to within 4-3 in the top of the sixth inning. Harold Baines, who had a .308 career average against Indians starter Charles Nagy before last night's game, slammed a homer into the right field stands. Official distance: 410 feet.
But Paul Assenmacher pitched a scoreless eighth, and in the ninth, Mesa retired Jeff Manto on a liner to right, struck out pinch-hitter Kevin Bass (batting for the slumping Chris Hoiles), and struck out pinch hitter Matt Nokes to end the game. The Indians are 20-0 when Mesa pitches. Perfect.
L And the Orioles found out that Curtis Goodwin isn't perfect.
Opponent: Cleveland Indians
Site: Jacobs Field, Cleveland
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (5-3, 3.90) vs. Indians' Dennis Martinez (5-0, 2.95)