CHICAGO — CHICAGO -- The Orioles' 8-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox yesterday, coming at the end of what was generally a terrific 13-game road trip, had all the effect of a bad mint after a great meal. Yucch.
The White Sox collected 19 hits and drew nine walks, and of the six relievers shuttled into the game by Orioles manager Davey Johnson, only one -- Archie Corbin -- successfully completed the task assigned to him.
But as the Orioles filed into the clubhouse, manager Davey Johnson congratulated them on winning nine of 13 games on the four-city Midwest trip, which included three-game sweeps of Milwaukee and Minnesota, a split of four games in Cleveland and one win in three games against the White Sox.
The Orioles limped out of Camden Yards two weeks ago 12 games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East race and five games behind Chicago and Seattle in the wild-card race, and they return home three games closer to New York and four games behind the White Sox, having pulled even with Seattle.
"We're playing better," said first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. "We're definitely pitching better . . . getting more timely hitting.
"We feel a lot better. This was a do-or-die road trip. If we go 3-10 on this road trip, it's pretty much over for us. It was a pretty good road trip, and we got ourselves back in the race."
The Orioles' starting rotation, erratic in May and June and the end of July, has stabilized, with ace Mike Mussina winning his last three starts, David Wells throwing effectively and rookie Rocky Coppinger stubbornly pitching through trouble. Catcher Chris Hoiles is hitting, and with Eddie Murray and Jeffrey Hammonds, the bottom third of the Orioles' lineup is producing, and the difference in the attack has been remarkable.
But what has become painfully evident is the Orioles' lack of bullpen depth. Perhaps newcomer Corbin can step up and assume a more meaningful role, or left-hander Mike Milchin. Maybe Alan Mills, who has made steady progress from off-season shoulder surgery, will be more reliable in close games.
Regardless: They need some relief, and it was the absence of relief that prevented them from finishing off the road trip with a victory -- and a series win -- over the White Sox yesterday.
Scott Erickson started for the Orioles and, somehow, he left with a 4-3 lead. The White Sox pounded him for 12 hits, most of them sharp grounders through the infield. However, Chicago repeatedly lost runners on the bases -- a double-play grounder to third by Frank Thomas in the second, with the bases loaded; another unconventional double play in the fourth, when Thomas smashed a liner at second baseman Roberto Alomar, who threw to third to nail Ray Durham before he got back to the base; catcher Cesar Devarez threw out Durham on an attempted steal in the first.
"Somehow, [Erickson] battled and battled for five innings," said Johnson.
B. J. Surhoff homered in the fifth to break a 3-all tie, and the Orioles had control of the game. But Erickson, who needed 108 pitches to get through five innings, was finished for the day, and the Orioles would have to get through the final four innings with the bullpen.
And so began the parade of relievers in the sixth, with Johnson serving as grand marshal. Milchin was brought in to face one hitter, Dave Martinez, and he walked him.
Milchin went out, Corbin came in and, given the greatest responsibility of any Orioles reliever -- pitching to Thomas -- Corbin retired the slugger on a groundout, with Martinez moving to second.
Johnson went to the mound again. Corbin out, left-hander Rick ** Krivda in, to pitch to the left-handed-hitting Robin Ventura and Harold Baines, the next two hitters. "I made a lot of pitching changes just to control matchups," Johnson said.
Ventura lined out to Cal Ripken, and Baines walked. Krivda out, right-hander Alan Mills came in, and struck out Lyle Mouton to end the inning. Ripken homered with two outs in the seventh, and the Orioles were well on their way, a two-run lead with 2 1/2 innings to go.
Tony Phillips pinch hit for the White Sox leading off the seventh, and Mills walked him. Johnson would remember this later as the key to the inning that would eventually beat the Orioles.
Ron Karkovice singled, and Ozzie Guillen sacrificed Phillips to third and Karkovice to second. Durham flied out to right, Phillips scoring. The Orioles still led 5-4. However, Mills left an inside slider over the plate, and Martinez hammered it past the outstretched glove of Palmeiro at first and into the corner. Karkovice rumbled home, and the score was tied.
Thomas was walked intentionally. Mills out, Jesse Orosco came in, and gave up an infield single to Ventura, Ripken diving to stop the ball and keeping the lead run from scoring. But Baines slammed a single into center, scoring two runs, and the Orioles were effectively finished.
"A fastball away," Orosco said of his pitch to Baines. "I got it across the plate and he did a good job of hitting the ball where it was."
So the Orioles come home for a three-game series against Milwaukee that starts tonight, having answered some questions. The starters seem to be adjusting to the four-man rotation, the offense is better with Murray and Hammonds, and the trade deadline has passed and David Wells and Bobby Bonilla are still Orioles.
But there are more questions that need answering, and soon. There are 46 games left to play.
Opponent: Milwaukee Brewers
Site: Camden Yards
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Brewers' Scott Karl (10-6, 5.16) vs. Orioles' Rocky Coppinger (7-3, 4.93)
% Tickets: 3,000 remain
Can't beat the best
Despite the 9-4 road trip, it's been nearly three months (May 17-19 vs. Seattle) since the Orioles won a series against a contender. A closer look:
Date ... .. .. ..Opp. .. .. .. ..Series
6/18-20 .. .. .vs. Texas .. .. ..L, 2-1
6/24-26 .. .. .at Texas .. .. ...L, 2-1
6/27-30 .. .. .at N.Y. .. .. .. .T, 2-2
7/4-7 .. .. ...vs. Bos. .. .. ...T, 2-2
7/11-14 .. .. .vs. N.Y. .. .. ...L, 4-0
7/18-21 .. .. .at Boston .. .. ..T, 2-2
7/25-28 .. .. .vs. Cle. .. .. ..L, 3-1
8/2-5 .. .. ...at Cle. .. .. .. .T, 2-2
8/9-11 .. .. ..at Chi. .. .. .. .L, 2-1
The Orioles have tied a major-league record by hitting at least two home runs in nine straight games. A look at the game-by-game breakdown of the record, which has all occurred
on the road:
Date ...Opp. .. ..HRs .. .. .. ..HR hitters .. .. .. .. ....Result
8/3 ..Cleveland ...2 .. .. ...Anderson, Bonilla .. .. .. ...W, 9-4
8/4 ..Cleveland ...2 .. .. ...Bonilla, Hammonds .. .. .....L, 14-2
8/5 ..Cleveland ...2 .. .. ...Bonilla, Hoiles .. .. .. ...W, 13-10
8/6 ..Milwaukee ...3 .. .. ...Surhoff 2, Hammonds .. .. ...W, 13-3
8/7 ..Milwaukee ...3 .. .. ...Alomar, Palmeiro, Hammonds ..W, 12-2
8/8 ..Milwaukee ...3 .. .. .. Anderson, Bonilla, Murray .. .W, 6-4
8/9 ..Chicago .....3 .. .. .. Anderson 2, Hoiles .. .. .. ..L, 4-3
8/10 .Chicago .....3 .. .. .. Alomar, Murray, Devereaux ...W, 13-4
8/11 .Chicago .....2 .. .. .. Surhoff, C. Ripken .. .. .. ..L, 8-5
Pub Date: 8/12/96