The underlying premise behind the intangible called "home-field advantage" is the that home team usually wins. Well, in the Orioles' case, the home-field advantage isn't applying.
The Orioles lost their fourth straight home game last night, 7-2 to the Kansas City Royals, and lost more ground to the Boston Red Sox, falling seven games out of first place. The Orioles committed three errors, matching their season high, and made several other defensive mistakes, depressing a gathering of 45,590 at Oriole Park.
The lapses overshadowed an encouraging start by Ben McDonald, who allowed two hits and one earned run over six innings in his first appearance since June 16.
"I thought Ben threw the ball well," said Orioles manager Phil Regan. "Really, much better than I expected the first time out."
Most of the Royals' offense came after McDonald left, and over the past two games, the Orioles have al
lowed 16 runs to the worst offensive team in baseball -- the coup de grace a three-run homer by Bob Hamelin in the eighth.
"We didn't pitch very well in the last three innings," Regan said.
The Orioles haven't done anything very well in their past four games at Camden Yards, losing two to Minnesota and two to Kansas City.
"Whether it's 32 below, or 120 degrees, you don't want to lose ahome," said third baseman Jeff Manto.
McDonald said, "It's frustrating."
The manner in which the Royals applied the final touches in the eighth with three runs frustrated Regan. All came with two out, all generated by the speed of Kansas City.
Tom Goodwin, who has been timed at 3.7 seconds getting dowthe first base line, beat out an infield hit to short. He stole second, although Orioles left-hander Mark Lee pitched out. Goodwin started toward third with Wally Joyner at the plate, and Manto moved toward third to cover. Joyner hit a pop foul over third, high enough so that under normal circumstances, Manto would have made the play easily. But Manto was out of position and couldn't recover in time to get back, and the potential third out dropped in the grass.
"That's a ball that's going to fall in 100 times [out of 100]." Mantsaid.
Joyner then walked. Lee seemed to have things under controagainst Hamelin, getting ahead on the count no balls and two strikes, on two fastballs. Hamelin, hitting .188 at the game's outset, said that he expected some sort of breaking ball because everybody's been throwing him breaking balls. But Lee threw a fastball, trying to get Hamelin to chase something high and out of the strike zone.
Except that he didn't get it up high enough. "I didn't think he'd put it in that spot," Hamelin said, "but it was a good pitch to hit. I was a little surprised by all the fastballs."
The fastball became a three-run homer, turning a one-run lead into a four-run advantage -- a killer blow for the Orioles, who were by then well aware the Red Sox were beating Texas in Boston.
So all that was good about McDonald was lost, the six strong innings in his first game off the disabled list.
McDonald felt pain in the back of his right shoulder after starting against California on June 10, and the soreness became worse as he pitched in Detroit June 16. He was placed on the disabled list June 22, and, he would say later, he was worried whether there was some serious damage; McDonald had never felt that kind of pain before.
A diagnosis by Dr. James Andrews on June 27 revealed a case of tendinitis in his shoulder, and since then, McDonald has slowly strengthened his arm. He had a mild setback last week in Chicago, but he pitched on Tuesday and felt strong. Nobody knew quite what to expect from McDonald when the took the mound last night. Perhaps he would tire quickly in the steamy summer weather, or maybe, just maybe, he would thrive. McDonald grew up in Louisiana, a childhood that prepared him for pitching drenched in sweat.
Right from the start, McDonald looked sharp.
He pitched scoreless ball into the fourth. Joyner led off that inning with a single to center, and Hamelin walked. Gaetti slapped a grounder toward the first base hole, and had it rolled through, McDonald would have had serious problems.
However, Rafael Palmeiro, a left-handed first baseman, moveon a straight line toward second, stretched out and gloved the ball, regained his balance and short-armed a throw to Cal Ripken second for a force on Hamelin. Joyner moved to third on the play and scored when the next hitter, Brent Mayne, flied to center.
The defense behind McDonald -- or lack thereof -- waresponsible for the Royals' second run, scored in the fifth. With two out, Coleman hit a grounder that rolled into left-center, barely past Ripken's lunge. Anderson hustled in, reached down and took his eye off the ball, which glanced off his glove just enough to give Coleman hope for reaching second. Anderson jabbed his free hand at the ball once, twice, before getting a handle, and Coleman made second easily. This was the first error for Anderson since July 31, 1994.
Still, there were two out, and all McDonald needed to do to get out of the inning was retire Goodwin. Coleman broke for third, a tremendous jump. Manto attempted to make a quick catch and snap tag on Coleman. Except for one detail: He failed to catch the throw, the ball ticking off his glove and rolling down the left-field line. Coleman scored, and the Orioles trailed by two runs. Their three errors matched their season high established May 19.
McDonald had cramps in his legs after the sixth, but he was finished for the night, having struck out eight.
Opponent: Kansas City Royals
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
TV/Radio: Ch. 2/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Royals' Kevin Appier (11-5, 3.04) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (5-6, 5.77)
Tickets: 200 remain
HITS AND MISSES
On the field: Earlier this month, Brady Anderson established the AL record for successfully stealing on 36 straight attempts. But since that streak ended, Anderson has been in a base-stealing slump. He was cut down in the first inning last night, and has been thrown out in three of his past five attempts. White Sox outfielder Tim Raines tied the record last night.
In the dugout: The Royals again went with a lineup stacked with left-handed hitters. Of the nine in the starting order, six were left-handed and two were switch-hitters, meaning Kansas City had eight lefties hitting against Ben McDonald. The only exception was third baseman Gary Gaetti.
In the clubhouse: "I made the pitches that I had to make because I focused on my stuff. I went to my strength -- my breaking ball." -- Royals starter Tom Gordon, who won his first game since June 21.