BOSTON -- The Orioles have five games to go, their pitching staff is a mess, their lead in the wild-card race is tenuous, and Davey Johnson is managing like a quarterback in a two-minute drill: He's making up his game plan as he goes along.
After Mo Vaughn hit three homers off a wearied David Wells and Boston blitzed the Orioles, 13-8, last night for their fifth loss in eight games, Johnson changed his rotation to ease the burden on his starting pitchers, who are exhausted from nearly two months of working on short rest.
Rick Krivda will start tonight, and Rocky Coppinger, Scott Erickson and Mike Mussina will each be bumped back a day to give them a little more rest. Throwing an inexperienced left-hander like Krivda at Fenway Park in September defies all conventional wisdom, and by starting Mussina and Wells in the final two games of the season, Johnson runs the risk of ruining his postseason alignment.
But Johnson feels he has no choice, with his pitching staff disintegrating and the Orioles clinging to a 1 1/2 -game lead over both Seattle (which lost last night) and Chicago (which won) in the wild-card race.
Johnson said: "I can't squeeze any more starts out of these guys."
Johnson went to the four-man rotation in late July, when the Orioles were all but out of contention, and his starters generally responded. But since the beginning of this month, three of the four primary starters have faded. Coppinger suffered a strain in his right forearm, and Mussina has a 5.97 ERA in his last five starts, allowing 36 hits and 19 earned runs in his last 28 2/3 innings.
Wells has been worst of all, capped off by his brutal performance last night -- nine earned runs in 5 1/3 innings, including four homers, increasing his ERA to a whopping 8.03 over his last five starts.
"He's made a lot of bad pitches," said pitching coach Pat Dobson. "No. 1, his location has been off, and his pitch selection hasn't been very good."
(Wells, who regularly met reporters when he was winning in August, didn't stick around to offer an opinion to reporters last night).
Mussina said: "I think if you look at some of our outings recently, all of us have gone through a period where we've been ineffective."
Johnson, whose bullpen is in disarray, as well, because Alan Mills is sidelined by a groin strain, told reporters immediately after last night's game he had to do something to take the pressure off his starters, and mentioned starting Krivda tonight as a possibility.
Minutes later, Dobson walked out of the shower and, wearing a towel, met with Johnson and they decided to start Krivda tonight.
Johnson stepped out of his office, told Mussina and Krivda and Coppinger about his audible. Hut, hut.
"Wells looked like he was throwing the ball pretty well," Johnson said. "But he's been carrying a heavy workload" -- six starts on shortened rest -- "and it's probably taking its toll.
"This is the price you pay [for the four-man rotation]. You'd like everybody to be on a roll about now, and we're not on as big a roll as we'd like to be."
Wells is on a roll. Straight down. Two wins in his last 11 starts.
Going into last night's game, he'd only allowed one homer to a left-handed hitter all year. Vaughn ripped a long, high drive into the net over the Green Monster in the first inning.
Brady Anderson hit a two-run shot, his 47th homer of the year, to put the Orioles ahead, but Boston scored four in the bottom of the third, Vaughn hitting another over the Green Monster.
As they often do, the Orioles came back. Cal Ripken blasted his 25th homer of the year, off Boston starter Tom Gordon, and the Orioles tied the score at 5-all in the fifth.
But Vaughn homered again leading off the sixth. "A hanging breaking ball," he said. "[Wells] got it up, and I hit it back to where it came from."
Actually, about 400 feet farther -- the ball carried over the Red Sox bullpen in right-center.
"He's my MVP," said Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, "no doubt about it. To what he's done, carry that team all year. He doesn't have the kind of support that [Alex] Rodriguez, [Ken] Griffey and Albert Belle do."
Wells walked Jose Canseco, Mike Greenwell singled, and after a fielder's choice grounder, Jeff Manto ripped a single to left, and Wells was finished. For once, he did not argue with Johnson's decision to remove him.
Johnson found out in the afternoon that Mills is out indefinitely, and his absence manifested itself in that sixth inning. Normally, with Mills healthy, either Terry Mathews or Armando Benitez would've relieved Wells, with the Orioles down only two runs.
But Johnson had to hold back Mathews and Benitez for late-inning relief, and he instead called on right-hander Archie Corbin, who walked the next two hitters, forcing across a run. By the time the Red Sox finished hitting, sending nine batters to the plate, Boston led 9-5.
Boston scored four more in the eighth; incredibly, Randy Myers had to come in to end a rally started against rookie pitcher Nerio Rodriguez. The Orioles added two in the ninth, window dressing for a pretty ugly picture.
"I know we'll still be leading the wild card tomorrow," Johnson said hopefully, "no matter what happens."
The quiet Orioles clubhouse was heartened as midnight approached. Jesse Orosco, carrying a sports pager, read that Seattle fell behind 7-0 early in their game against California last night. Orioles public relations director John Maroon charged around the clubhouse, reporting the news to players.
"Oh, we needed that," said Bobby Bonilla.
They need something, preferably rest for their pitchers. But there is no time for that now.
Down the stretch
Day .. .. ..O's .. ..NY .. ..Chi .. ..Sea
9/25 .. .. .Bos .. ..Mil* .. .KC .. .. Cal
9/26 .. .. .Tor .. ..Bos .. .. .. .. ..Oak
9/27 .. .. .Tor .. ..Bos .. .Min .. .. Oak
9/28 .. .. .Tor .. ..Bos .. .Min .. .. Oak
9/29 .. .. .Tor .. ..Bos .. .Min .. ...Oak
9/30 .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ...Cle#
Home games in bold
#-makeup, if necessary
Since Scott Erickson's strong performance against the Yankees on Sept. 18, the Orioles' starting pitching has been subpar (8.45 ERA):
Date Pitcher .. ..Opp .. ..IP .. ..H .. ..ER .. .. .Dec
9/19 Mussina .. ..N.Y. .. ..2 .. ..3 .. ...3 .. .. ...L
9/19* Wells .. ...N.Y. .. .3 2/3 .. ..8 .. ...6 .. .. ..ND
9/20 Krivda .. ...Tor. .. .6 1/3 .. ..9 .. ..4 .. .. ...L
9/21 C'inger .. ..Tor. .. ..7 .. ..4 .. ...1 .. .. ...W
9/22 Erickson .. .Tor. .. ..7 .. ..8 .. ...4 .. .. ...W
9/23 Mussina .. ..Mil. .. ..7 .. ..8 .. ...6 .. .. ..ND
9/24 Wells .. .. .Bos. .. .5 1/3 .. ..8 .. ...9 .. .. ...L
Tot. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 38 1/3 .. .48 .. ..36 .. .. .2-3
* -- 2nd game of doubleheader
Pub Date: 9/25/96