Orioles blow lead, big comeback in 9-8 loss to Royals


Even as they played in separate cities, the Orioles and Boston Red Sox dueled last night, waging a war of symmetry for the scoreboard watchers. As one fell behind, so did the other, before both fought back -- and then lost.

The Orioles, missing a chance to gain a game on the Red Sox, came back from a six-run deficit to take an 8-6 lead over Kansas City only to go down in heart-wrenching defeat, 9-8. Closer Doug Jones blew his first save since May 16, and the Orioles' four-game winning streak came to an end before 43,865 at Camden Yards.

The Orioles scored four in the fifth and another in the sixth to take an 8-6 lead, but Royals first baseman Bob Hamelin homered in the eighth, cutting the lead to one run. Then Gary Gaetti tied the game with a homer leading off the ninth against Jones, and with two outs, Wally Joyner doubled off the right-field scoreboard to score Tom Goodwin, capping what had been an excruciating night of scoreboard watching.

"This is a disappointing loss," said Orioles manager Phil Regan.

The national anthem hadn't been heard at Camden Yards when the first flash from Boston appeared on the right-field scoreboard: Texas had gotten two runs in the first inning against the Red Sox, against Roger Clemens. The Rangers would get two more, taking a 4-0 lead. What an opportunity for the Orioles, Mike Mussina pitching against the weakest offensive team in baseball in the Royals, and the Red Sox losing.

But right away, the Royals began chipping away at Mussina. Vince Coleman singled, and Goodwin chopped a hit-and-run single through the left side. Keith Lockhart blooped a single over short, scoring a run, and Joyner doubled home two runs, and there was nobody out.

Two more hits sandwiched around two outs and Regan went to the mound to end the shortest start of Mussina's career, two-thirds of an inning. "I thought he pitched all right," said

Regan. "A lot of the hits he gave up were bloops. He didn't have a lot of luck."

Brent Mayne doubled off reliever Arthur Rhodes and the Orioles trailed 6-0, and almost simultaneously, another flash from Boston -- Rangers 8, Red Sox 0. Texas had battered Clemens, a result that seemed destined to haunt the Orioles all evening.

Mark Gubicza took the mound for the bottom of the first, and he could feel very good about life with the light-hitting Royals, for a change. Going into the game, Gubicza had the dubious distinction of being the least-supported starter in the AL, 3.19 runs per game, and here he had a 6-0 lead without throwing a pitch.

His lead shriveled. Brady Anderson homered to start the first inning for the Orioles, and Manny Alexander doubled and later scored. The Orioles had life.

So did the Red Sox. As the Orioles batted in the bottom of the third, a bright, yellow "6" replaced the zero indicating the Boston scoring, and the marquee confirmed the bad news for the Orioles. Jose Canseco, the scoreboard read, had hit a two-run homer, and the Red Sox were, quite suddenly, within two runs of the Rangers.

Alexander said: "We were watching [the scoreboard]. We saw them come back."

If the Boston comeback was sudden, the Orioles' came at a slow crawl. Alexander doubled with one out. Next up: first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who had extended the worst hitting streak of his career to 25 at-bats with a first-inning flyout.

And he ended the streak there in the third, doubling to right, driving home Alexander and drawing the Orioles to within 6-3.

Royals manager Bob Boone started six left-handed hitters and three switch-hitters against Mussina, and the strategy paid off in the first. But the advantage turned into a liability with Rhodes pitching.

After giving up that first-inning double, the left-hander began dominating the Royals. He mixed high fastballs with sliders that cut across the inside corner of the plate, blowing away the K.C. lefties.

From the second inning to the seventh, Rhodes allowed just one single, and struck out 10. Boone, holding a lead and knowing the Orioles' bullpen had four right-handers, didn't insert his first right-handed pinch-hitter until the sixth.

By then, the Orioles had overtaken the Royals, making something out of what looked to be a nothing inning. The Orioles had a runner at first and two outs when Palmeiro hit a two-run homer into the right-center-field stands. Cal Ripken then hit a towering fly to left, and Royals left fielder Vince Coleman went back to the wall to set himself.

Coleman leaped up, and the ball hit something and dribbled down onto the field. Ripken stopped at second, but stared at second base umpire Jim Evans with a look of expectation -- had the ball gone into the stands and bounced out? -- and probably some frustration, for Ripken had angrily argued a call with Evans in the first inning.

Regan hustled out of the dugout to contest the call; a replay showed that the ball had ricocheted off the chest of a fan standing in the front row, hit the top of the fence and bounced onto the field.

"The ball did not hit a spectator," Evans said simply afterward. "It hit the wall."

The point became moot when Harold Baines lined a single and Ripken turned at third and slid across home. A tie score in Camden Yards. A one-run game in Boston, with the Rangers' lead shrinking to 8-7. Marvelous stuff, like Dueling Banjos.

Chris Hoiles doubled into the left-field corner, and Coleman battled the bounces and lost, Baines chugging home and beating the relay.

The Rangers extended their lead to 9-7, just before Orioles increased theirs to 8-6. Boston closed to within 9-8 against Texas. Feast or famine, for the Red Sox or the Orioles. If things went well, the Orioles could end the night five games out. If not, they could drop to seven games behind Boston.

Finally, before the top of the eighth, the final from 400 miles away flashed at Camden Yards: 9-8, Rangers, and the crowd roared.

But after Hamelin's homer, and Gaetti's homer, and Joyner's game-winning double, they would leave in silence.


On the field: Kansas City produced a lineup where all nine hitters could bat left-handed -- three switch-hitters and six lefties against Mike Mussina. Interestingly, right-handers had fared much better against Mussina (.271) than left-handers (.219). But the Royals' lefties went 6-for-8 against Mussina before he was pulled in the first inning.

In the dugout: Because Mussina was knocked out early, Regan has some options. Ben McDonald will start tonight, possibly prompting another K.C. lineup thick with left-handers, and then Regan could relieve him with left-hander Jamie Moyer. Mussina could come back to start in Moyer's place Sunday, having thrown only 30 pitches last night.

In the clubhouse: Orioles closer Doug Jones needs regular action, to keep his arm a little tired and his pitches sinking. Pitching on five days' rest last night, he was the losing pitcher. "The All-Star break maybe hurt us there, because he needs to work," said Orioles manager Phil Regan.


Opponent: Kansas City Royals

Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Time: 7:35

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Royals' Kevin Appier (11-5, 3.04) vs. Orioles' Ben McDonald (2-4, 4.40)

Tickets: 2,900 remain

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