OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Oakland Athletics finally found somebody to stop the Orioles' hit parade, which was no small accomplishment after 37 runs had crossed the plate in the first three games of the series.
Right-hander Ariel Prieto gave up just four hits over 8 1/3 innings and, perhaps more importantly, stayed on the mound long enough yesterday to keep the A's bullpen from letting his 3-1 victory get away.
Orioles rookie Rocky Coppinger also pitched well, giving up three hits over seven innings, but there would be no late-inning fireworks to bail him out after he gave up a two-run homer to A's catcher Terry Steinbach for the only earned runs he surrendered all afternoon.
"Great job by both pitchers," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said. "That's the first time I've seen [Prieto] and I was really impressed with what I saw. Rocky pitched well, too, but he got a pitch out over the plate to the catcher and Terry Steinbach just crushed it."
And with that drive to right-center field went the Orioles' five-game winning streak, but they remained 5 1/2 games behind the first-place New York Yankees in the tightening American League East race, because the Yankees already had gone down hard to the Seattle Mariners. However, the Chicago White Sox later beat Ben McDonald and Milwaukee to double their lead to two games in the wild-card race.
It was Steinbach's 29th homer of the year and the 202nd home run of the year for the A's, who lead the major leagues in that department. The Orioles aren't far behind at 197, and they kept pace when first baseman Rafael Palmeiro launched his 30th homer of the year to lead off the seventh inning.
That must have sent a shiver through the Oakland Coliseum crowd of 20,231, which had to be aware that the Orioles had
scored 30 runs after the sixth inning in the first three games of the series. But that was largely because they got into the thin Oakland bullpen, something Prieto did not allow until the ninth inning.
He didn't give way until Roberto Alomar lined out to lead off the ninth and Brady Anderson bounced a single through the middle to bring the tying run to the plate, and even then manager Art Howe had to be wondering as he walked to the mound to take the ball.
The crowd booed loudly when Howe left the dugout, then watched as reliever Buddy Groom gave up a sharp single to Palmeiro that brought Bobby Bonilla to the plate representing the go-ahead run. Enter right-hander Mark Acre, who had just arrived from Triple-A Edmonton and apparently didn't know that he was supposed to give the game away.
Acre got Bonilla on a bouncer to second base, then retired Cal Ripken on a foul pop to record his first major-league save.
"It's a rush, man," Acre said afterward. "I'd never had the ball in the ninth in a save situation [in the majors] and to get my first save against a hot team like Baltimore, it's great."
It was also a rush for Prieto, who defected from Cuba in 1995, had struggled during the first half of the season, but came back from an injury rehabilitation assignment with a more efficient delivery and a better idea of how to compete at the major-league level.
"We had him stay down there for the entire rehab period," said A's assistant general manager Billy Beane. "He had good stuff, but he really didn't know how to compete against major-league hitters."
He showed yesterday that he could compete against one of the best offensive lineups in the game, holding Alomar, Bonilla, Ripken, Chris Hoiles (ending a career-high 13-game streak) and Eddie Murray hitless.
"I saw what happened [in the first three games], but I didn't think about it," Prieto said through an interpreter. "I'm a completely different person and I hoped it would be different. I thank God it was."
Coppinger wishes it had been different. He struggled only in the fourth inning, when he gave up a leadoff walk to Mark McGwire and the one-out homer to Steinbach, but he walked four in all and threw 126 pitches over seven innings.
The A's also scored an unearned run on a three-base throwing error by B. J. Surhoff and a sacrifice fly by Jason Giambi in the fifth.
"My control was off today," said Coppinger, who fell to 7-4. "I had a hard time throwing strikes.
"Three hits doesn't seem like a lot, but there were a lot of base runners."
Still, it came down to just one pitch -- a fastball that was up and out over the plate. Steinbach launched it over the 388 sign in right-center.
"I put it right where he likes it, up and away, and he hit it," Coppinger said. "One pitch cost me the ballgame today."
Steinbach was just glad to hit the ball at all, coming off an 0-for-9 doubleheader that included four strikeouts.
"I haven't been hitting the ball that well so I was just trying to put the ball in play," said Steinbach, who struck out two more times yesterday. "I got a fastball that got up and over the plate a little bit. Fortunately, it carried enough to go out today."
And take the Orioles' winning streak with it.
Hits and misses
On the field: Orioles starter Rocky Coppinger pitched a solid ** seven innings, giving up just three hits and three runs (two earned), but he was upstaged by Oakland starter Ariel Prieto, who overpowered the Orioles lineup for 8 1/3 innings (four hits) on the way to his fourth victory in nine decisions.
In the dugout: Manager Davey Johnson lifted Coppinger after the seventh inning because the rookie right-hander had thrown 126 pitches. Left-hander Mike Milchin and right-hander Archie Corbin finished up. "Rocky wasn't as efficient as he has been," Johnson said, "but he pitched a good ballgame."
In the clubhouse: Johnson was very pleased to hear that outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds would not require surgery on his injured left knee. "It's the best possible news under the circumstances," Johnson said.
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site: Oakland (Calif.) Coliseum
Time: 4: 05 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' David Wells (9-10, 4.62) vs. A's Don Wengert
Pub Date: 8/18/96.