The Texas Rangers arrived in Baltimore with visions of last weekend's three-game score-a-thon still dancing in their heads, but they would have to take a more measured approach into last night's series opener at Camden Yards.
There would be no 16-run explosion in the eighth inning. No game-breaking grand slams. Nothing resembling the kind of punishment they inflicted on the Orioles' pitching staff at The Ballpark in Arlington.
Only the outcome would be the same. The Rangers needed just a relatively modest three-run rally in the seventh inning to score a 5-4 victory before 44,022 and remain undefeated in four games against the Orioles this season.
First baseman Will Clark drove a bases-loaded double into the gap in right-center field with one out in the seventh to put the Rangers in front and Mickey Tettleton followed with an RBI single that would turn out to be decisive as Texas broke a four-game losing streak.
The Orioles would make it interesting in the eighth when B. J. Surhoff drove a two-run homer into the bullpen behind center field, but Rangers closer Mike Henneman pitched a scoreless ninth and sent the struggling AL East leaders to their seventh loss in the past nine games.
Left-hander David Wells gave up five runs on 10 hits over 6 1/3 innings to take his second loss in a row after opening the season with two straight victories. Rangers starter Darren Oliver gave up just three hits over 4 2/3 innings, but struggled with his control and was not around for the decision. Middle reliever Mark Brandenburg pitched 1 1/3 innings to earn his first major-league victory.
"We had our chances," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson. "We couldn't get the big hit. We couldn't get many hits at all. We'll be better tomorrow."
The Rangers scored 43 runs in the three games in Texas. They now have outscored the Orioles 48-20 in the season series.
"You can't explain it," said Clark. "It's just baseball. It's a funny game. Sometimes you come out there and you can't do anything wrong and the next day you can't do anything right. We've just played pretty decent ball."
Wells was coming off his first loss of the season, a rocky performance in the final game of the disastrous series in Texas. He gave up seven runs (six earned) on nine hits over 5 2/3 innings in that game, most of the damage coming on one big swing by red-hot third baseman Dean Palmer, who hit a game-breaking grand slam in the third inning.
There would be no such free-for-all last night, just a run-of-the-mill Rangers victory. Wells gave up a long home run to Tettleton to lead off the second inning and allowed four extra-base hits in the first five innings, but managed to hold things together until the Rangers broke a 2-2 tie with the three-run rally in the seventh.
"Wells pitched a good game," Johnson said. "The bats were a little quiet. They were quiet in Kansas City and again today. I'm pleased with the way he threw the ball."
Matched up again against Oliver, Wells kept the Rangers' lineup from getting out of hand the way it did in all three games at The Ballpark in Arlington. He even weathered another bruising comebacker in the fourth -- the third shot he has taken off the shin this season. He just didn't get any significant offensive support.
"We're not playing well," said first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, "but we're a good team and we will show it eventually."
The Orioles went down quietly against Oliver in the first two innings, but had a chance to break out in a big way in the third. Consecutive one-out singles by Chris Hoiles and Jeffrey Hammonds led to a two-out RBI single by Roberto Alomar. Oliver complicated the situation with a walk to Palmeiro that loaded the bases and nearly gave up a slam to Bobby Bonilla, who launched a shot to left that sailed foul before grounding out to end the inning.
Oliver continued to pitch precariously in the fourth. He walked two and hit Hammonds on the foot with a breaking ball to load the bases with two outs, then served up a walk to Brady Anderson to force home the go-ahead run. But again, the Orioles failed to deliver the kind of blow that the Rangers seem to produce so routinely. Alomar grounded into a force at second to end the inning and keep Oliver in the game, though not for long.
He finally gave way to Brandenburg after surrendering a two-out walk to Cal Ripken in the fifth. Oliver gave up two runs on three hits, five walks and a hit batsman. The no-decision was his second in three 1996 starts.
Wells didn't have a lot of comfortable innings either. He retired the side in order only twice and flirted with trouble on several occasions.
The Rangers tied the game 2-2 in the fifth on a pair of long doubles by Kevin Elster and Ivan Rodriguez.
They took the lead for good when Clark's bases-loaded double brought home two runs in the seventh.
That was it for Wells, but not for the Rangers, who scored the winning run on the RBI single by Tettleton before reliever Roger McDowell got Palmer to ground into an inning-ending double play.
After Surhoff's homer, newly promoted right-hander Keith Shepherd kept the fans in the game by working out of a first-and-third, no-out jam in the eighth -- thanks to two strikeouts and another spectacular play by Alomar.
But Henneman yielded only a two-out single to Alomar in the ninth to earn his fourth save.
"Right now, they're dominating us," said Palmeiro, the former Ranger who grounded out to end the game. "But it's early in the season and we've still got three games to go in this series. We'll see what happens. They're hitting the ball well and we're not."
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Site: Oriole Park
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Rangers' Bobby Witt (2-1, 6.85) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (1-1, 4.24)
Tickets: 1,000 remain
Pub Date: 4/27/96