Coppinger: Time off hurt slider most of all Strawberry continues to confound rookie with single, home run; AL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When this season ends, and Orioles rookie Rocky Coppinger has time to relax and reflect on his whirlwind introduction to the majors, he'll think about many things.

Coppinger will recall the lightning pace that shot him from Class A in April 1995, to starter in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, but he'll undoubtably think a long time about how he'll pitch to the Yankees' Darryl Strawberry.

In three career at-bats off Coppinger, Strawberry has three hits -- two home runs and a single. The single and one of those homers -- a bases-empty drive leading off the second inning last night -- helped pace the Yankees to an 8-4 win over the Orioles at Camden Yards.

"There's some guys that I can't get out and there are guys that I can get out," Coppinger said. "That's a good question. This offseason I'll sit back and look and find a way to get him out next year."

Unless the Orioles stage a miraculous comeback from a 3-1 series deficit and Coppinger gets into a game in relief, that next crack at Strawberry -- who homered off the El Paso, Texas, native on July 13, also at Camden Yards -- will be next season.

Coppinger had to wait for the chance to pitch in the postseason, going 16 days between his final start -- a 4-1 win at Toronto on Sept. 26 -- and last night, and he showed few of the expected effects of a long layoff, walking only one batter -- Joe Girardi in the fourth.

However, Coppinger, who warmed a few times in the bullpen during the Division Series and the first two games of the ALCS gave up a season-high three homers last night -- to Bernie Williams in the first, Strawberry, and Paul O'Neill in the fifth, surrendering five runs and taking the loss.

"I made three bad pitches and every one of them left the park. I don't know if it's being inexperienced or not, but it was three pitches that cost us the game," said Coppinger. "My slider was the worst pitch. I didn't throw it good. The slider is a touch pitch where you've got to keep throwing it, and if anything was affected, it was the slider."

"Rocky basically threw fastballs and a couple of breaking balls that they hit out of the ballpark. He didn't make the pitches when it counted to stop them," said manager Davey Johnson.

Coppinger said the Yankees teed off on his assortment of pitches for their homers. Strawberry hit a changeup, Williams a hanging slider and O'Neill hit a fastball to the opposite field in left.

The homer to Williams in the first, which followed a leadoff double to Derek Jeter put Coppinger, who went 10-6 in the regular season, in an immediate 2-0 hole.

"I guess I was a little nervous starting out, but once I gave up that home run to Bernie, I felt like I had no choice but to calm down," said Coppinger.

The fiery rookie got a mound visit from pitching coach Pat Dobson, which appeared from television replays to be contentious.

"We were just talking about situations. He told me to calm down and asked me what I was doing wrong. I was asking for some advice, and as the pitching coach he was giving it to me," Coppinger said.

After the Strawberry homer in the second, Coppinger appeared to settle and retired eight straight before Strawberry singled with two out in the fourth, followed by the O'Neill homer.

"It was one of those days. I threw some good pitches, I threw some bad ones," said Coppinger. "He [Strawberry] got that base hit and O'Neill got that home run and I guess that was a backbreaker."

The Orioles failed in a number of opportunities to get back into the game, square the series, and take the rookie off the hook.

But Coppinger and his teammates will have a lot of time to ponder that if they fail again today.

Pub Date: 10/13/96

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