DETROIT -- What a day for the Orioles. They beat up on the hapless Detroit Tigers, 16-6, established themselves as the most prolific home run-hitting team in history, and gained ground on the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox in the race for a playoff berth.
Cal Ripken hit a couple of homers and drove in four runs. Bobby Bonilla hit a grand slam and had five RBIs. Reliever Archie Corbin pitched great and rushed off to Texas to be with his wife for the birth of their child. The Orioles completed their first three-game sweep at Tiger Stadium since 1977. What a day.
But there is a catch. Rookie Rocky Coppinger, an important part of the rotation since June, has a sore elbow.
He lasted only 4 2/3 innings yesterday, giving up six runs to the Tigers, and after coming off the mound, Coppinger told pitching coach Pat Dobson he felt as though he couldn't throw a fastball through a wet paper bag.
"Today [the elbow] bothered me a little bit," said Coppinger. "The way I threw something's got to be wrong."
Coppinger started against the Tigers on Sept. 8 and threw exceptionally, as well as he's pitched in a month, striking out a career-high 11. His fastball was clocked in the mid-90s, and his slider broke sharply.
But the top part of Coppinger's forearm, just below the elbow, was sore the next day. On Wednesday, he had a magnetic resonance imaging scan, which the Orioles and Coppinger say revealed no abnormalities. Manager Davey Johnson and Dobson bumped Coppinger's scheduled start back from Friday to yesterday, to give him extra rest.
It didn't help. Coppinger had a hard time extending his arm as he threw, and he didn't have much on his fastball. He said he'll be examined by team doctor Michael Jacobs again today, and Coppinger should know in a day or two if he'll be able to make his next scheduled start, Friday against Toronto.
"We're in a pennant race," Coppinger said. "If I can't go out there and [compete], there's no reason I should be out there pitching. I'll see Dr. Jacobs and see what he says."
An injury to Coppinger may or may not affect the Orioles' pursuit of a playoff spot. They're 2 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the American League East and 2 1/2 games ahead of the White Sox in the wild-card race. Even if healthy, Coppinger likely would start only twice more, anyway; the Orioles intend to use Mike Mussina, David Wells and Scott Erickson on three days' rest for the final 12 days of the season. But if Coppinger is sidelined, the pressure will mount on Mussina to perform on shortened rest, something he hasn't been comfortable doing in the past.
If Coppinger can't make his last two scheduled starts, he probably will be replaced by Rick Krivda, who pitches today against the Milwaukee Brewers. Coppinger is 8-6 with a 5.74 ERA, Krivda 2-4 with a 5.06 ERA.
The loss of Coppinger wouldn't be a major blow to the Orioles in the postseason, when there are at least two days off each week, and when the Orioles probably would go with three starters -- Mussina, Wells and Erickson.
The Orioles scored four runs for Coppinger in the top of the first yesterday, on homers by Brady Anderson and Cal Ripken. But Coppinger immediately gave back that advantage, allowing four the bottom of the first.
The Orioles surged ahead again, with three runs in the third and another in the fourth. Back came the Tigers: a run in the fourth, another in the fifth, and Coppinger was done.
Corbin took his place, on a bit of a tight schedule. Corbin was to board a flight for Texas at 5: 20 p.m., and Johnson figured the pitcher would have to leave for the airport by 4 p.m. That left him enough time to throw 2 1/3 no-hit innings, walking two and striking out one. Corbin rushed to the clubhouse to shower, picked up the packed suitcase he left by the clubhouse door, and was on his way home a half-hour before the Orioles wrapped up their eighth victory in their past nine games.
"It's like I've been saying: The bullpen is doing a great job for us," said Johnson.
After today's game against the Brewers, the Orioles begin a three-game series in New York tomorrow. If they lose all three games against the Yankees, they effectively will be out of the AL East race.
But if they win two of three or sweep the Yankees, the race gets even more interesting.
"The object is to win the division," said Johnson. "The object is not to win the wild card. It's too damn confusing to figure out who you're trying to beat out."
Hitting the record books
Offensive records equaled or broken in the Orioles' 16-6 drubbing of the Detroit Tigers yesterday:
The Orioles' five home runs gave them 243 on the year, breaking the 1961 New York Yankees' major-league record of 240, set in 1961.
Brady Anderson led off the game with a homer to right field, the 10th time he's led off the first inning with a homer this year, breaking Rickey Henderson's American League record, set in 1986. He is one leadoff home run from matching Bobby Bonds' major-league record, set in 1973.
Cal Ripken's four RBIs yesterday brought his career total to 1,359, breaking Brooks Robinson's Orioles record of 1,357.
The Orioles tied a major-league record by hitting consecutive homers for the 16th time this year, when Bobby Bonilla and Ripken homered in the eighth inning. The 1977 Boston Red Sox VTC and 1982 Milwaukee Brewers share the record with the Orioles.
Bonilla's grand slam in the eighth inning was the Orioles' ninth this year, extending their team record.
The Tigers' pitching staff extended two records: Most grand slams allowed (13), surpassing the 1992 Seattle Mariners' record of 10, and most home runs allowed (234), breaking the major-league record held by the 1987 Orioles (226).
AL East .. .. ..W-L .. ..GB .. .. ..GR
New York .. ...84-64 .. .-- .. .. ..14
Orioles .. .. .82-67 .. .2 1/2 .. .. ..13
Wild card .. ...W-L .. ..GB .. .. ..GR
Orioles .. .. .82-67 .. .-- .. .. ..13
Chicago .. .. .80-70 .. .2 1/2 .. .. ..12
Seattle .. .. .77-70 .. .4 .. .. ...15
Opponent: Milwaukee Brewers
Site: Oriole Park
Time: 3: 05 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Brewers' Cal Eldred (3-4, 4.75) vs. Orioles' Rick Krivda (2-4, 5.06)
Tickets: 4,500 remain
Pub Date: 9/16/96