KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Orioles manager Davey Johnson, watching another starter get hammered, went to the mound in the second inning last night and verbally thrashed Kent Mercker.
Afterward, Mercker had some things to say about Johnson's decision to take him out in the third inning of the Orioles' 10-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals, suggesting the manager doesn't have confidence in him. Mercker allowed five runs on eight hits in 2 2/3 innings, the fifth straight Orioles starter to allow five or more runs.
Thirty-year-old journeyman right-hander Doug Linton (2-2), whose only other victory this year came against the Detroit Tigers, held the Orioles to two hits over 6 2/3 innings in his fifth big-league start. Relievers Tim Pugh and Mike Magnante finished up the three-hitter.
Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken tied Sachio Kinugasa's world record of 2,215 consecutive games played, the Japanese legend standing and clapping for two minutes, with the rest of the crowd, when the game became official in the fifth.
Some Americans who've played in both the major leagues and in Japan shrug at the comparison of the Ripken and Kinugasa streaks, saying there's a big difference between the caliber of baseball played in the two countries. Kinugasa, having watched the Orioles' starting pitchers two of the last three games, probably would agree.
There's no getting around it: The Orioles' starters have been horrible. Since May 21, they've allowed 104 earned runs in 103 1/3 innings, for a 9.06 ERA, and Mercker fell right into line last night.
All the conditions were in his favor. He'd pitched reasonably well in his past two starts, he was a left-hander starting against a team that does poorly against lefty starters (seven wins and 14 losses before last night), and the Royals are the worst offensive team in the American League.
Five batters into the game, Mercker and the Orioles were behind 4-0. Three straight singles and a three-run homer by Kansas City third baseman Craig Paquette.
The Royals continued to beat on Mercker in the second. Joe Randa doubled with one out. Jose Offerman flied out, but Mercker walked Joe Vitiello. Paquette, who has killed the Orioles in the past, singled, bringing home another run.
It was too much for Johnson to take. Jimmy Haynes was warmed up and ready to come in, and Mercker Johnson marched to the mound -- but not to yank Mercker. No, the manager went out to give Mercker a piece of his mind. The way Johnson's head was bobbing for emphasis and words were spewing out of his mouth, he obviously was lecturing the left-hander.
"I was just saying, 'Let's go, we're better than this,' " Johnson said afterward. "His last two starts had been pretty good."
Mercker said Johnson "came out . . . and told me I didn't have [anything], and can I get this guy out? I said yes."
Mercker (3-5) retired Kevin Young to end the inning, with the Orioles down 5-0. But in the third Joe Fasano singled with one out and Joe Stynes walked with two outs, and Johnson relieved Mercker, neither man saying a word to the other when the change was made.
But Mercker offered an opinion to reporters afterward. "I guess they have no patience with me," he said. "They had a guy up [in the bullpen] in the first, second and third. . . . I had two out and two on [in the third], and he took me out. I've been pulled after one hitter, too, so it doesn't surprise me.
"If he [Johnson] did it with everybody, it would make more sense. But I guess it's just me. Last time I gave up two runs and got pulled after six [innings]."
Mercker said he hadn't talked to Johnson about his decision. "No, I don't want to be controversial," Mercker said. "He's the nTC manager and he does what he thinks is right. We, as players, have to live with it."
Johnson declined to respond to Mercker's comments.
Haynes was no relief. He is struggling badly now, allowing 17 runs in his last 12 2/3 innings. In this game, he was the human white flag.
The Royals scored three runs off him in the fifth inning, two more on a homer by Young in the eighth. The Orioles' two runs came on bases-empty homers by Brady Anderson (No. 21) and Rafael Palmeiro (No. 15), Palmeiro extending his hitting streak to 11 games.
By the seventh inning, players on both sides were hacking at the first pitch thrown to them, as if to speed along the inevitable. But there may be bad blood between these teams now that could manifest itself at some point in this four-game series.
On a force play at second in the first inning, Young slid into Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar aggressively, forcing Alomar to leap high. He landed awkwardly on his ankle.
Alomar said something to Young as the Kansas City right fielder ran off the field, and then said something to second base umpire Tim McClelland.
Later, with Young at the plate, Alomar visited the mound and two pitches later Haynes threw Young a high and tight fastball that Young fisted into left field.
In addition, Linton threw several pitches far inside to the Orioles, including Ripken; in the seventh, Magnante hit B. J. Surhoff with an inside pitch.
If there are some ramifications, a beanball or two, the Orioles may want to have a starting pitcher deliver the message and risk ejection. The Orioles might be better off with a reliever in there, anyway.
Johnson again questioned the pitch selection to a couple of hitters -- "The hitters are like an open book, and we aren't reading them" -- and he scoffed at the suggestion that the starters are dragging each other down.
"I don't think anyone is trying to get lit up more than the other one," Johnson said. "But that's something to consider."
Opponent: K.C. Royals
Site: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
Time: 8: 05
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (8-3, 5.54) vs. Royals' Mark Gubicza (4-9, 4.98)
Pub Date: 6/14/96