The Orioles showed last night that until further notice they are to be beaten early or not be beaten at all. With a lockdown effort from a healthy bullpen, the Orioles rallied for three eighth-inning runs on Rafael Palmeiro's leadoff homer and Chris Hoiles' two-out, two-run single to take out the Kansas City Royals, 6-4, at Camden Yards.
Trailing 4-3 against closer Jeff Montgomery, the Orioles forced a tie when Palmeiro sliced a home run to left field. Eric Davis followed with a single and eventually stole second, leaving first base open for B. J. Surhoff to receive an intentional walk.
Jeffrey Hammonds pushed both runners into scoring position with a smash that third baseman Craig Paquette turned into a highlight stop. Hoiles made the extra base hurt. With first base again open, he was allowed to hit and punished Montgomery's 1-2 pitch to center field.
Orioles manager Davey Johnson was moved to compare Hoiles' positive early indicators to 1993, when Hoiles hit .310 and slammed 29 home runs.
While stopping short of Johnson's endorsement, Hoiles allowed, feel good. I had a good spring. I'm hoping to carry it through the beginning of the year. Early, if you get some confidence, it'll definitely help."
His last at-bat represented justice for Hoiles. Until the eighth, the night had only teased him. The ping-hitting Royals devoted themselves to playing little ball. They stole three bases, were caught on a fourth attempt, and successfully worked a $l hit-and-run during their three-run fifth inning.
"They've got guys who can flat-out run," said Hoiles, left holding the ball on one attempt. "They're not going to beat you with the home run. They beat you by running. They've probably got the fastest team in the league."
Even worse, Hoiles looked to have tied the game in the sixth inning when he crushed Royals starter Jose Rosado's final pitch to center field.
However, Tom Goodwin, who robbed Davis of a home run Wednesday, climbed the wall to deny Hoiles of at least extra bases.
"I thought I got enough of it. I thought it was gone," Hoiles said. "But sometimes the ball flies weird here in April."
There is nothing weird about the Orioles' bullpen. Healthy, it has the potential to whipsaw any team in the league with its combination of experience, balance and power. In two days, the pen has allowed only six hits and struck out 10 in 7 1/3 scoreless innings.
The situation contrasts last year when the Orioles entered the season with a battered bullpen. Now it is their most intimidating force.
"It's a lot different than last year when we were hurting for right-handers," said Johnson. "Against Texas we got caught naked. Against New York we were naked."
Last night's fully-clothed effort rescued emergency starter Scott Kamieniecki, who stumbled in the fifth inning after getting within two outs of making himself eligible for his first win since last April 24.
Kamieniecki survived a troublesome first inning with only one run, but was undone in the fifth by Royals shortstop Jay Bell's fifth consecutive hit, a two-run, two-out homer that forged a 4-2 lead.
Johnson had hoped to get at least 70 pitches from Kamieniecki. He received 81. The last 11 were his most painful.
Kamieniecki, 32, appeared for the first time since last May 24. Recurring elbow problems have dogged him, blunting potential that carried him to 10 wins with the 1993 New York Yankees.
He began last night's start with only 16 wins since, including just one during his lost '96 season.
Having made only one start in seven appearances this spring, Kamieniecki never progressed beyond a three-inning outing. He barely cleared the first, however, last night.
Tentative at first, Kamieniecki required 28 pitches, 15 minutes and a lengthy visit from pitching coach Ray Miller to escape the first inning.
The Royals scored their first earned run of the season due largely to the right-hander's generosity. Kamieniecki walked three hitters in the inning, but wiggled out of a bases-loaded jam with only one run allowed when Cal Ripken gloved Jermaine Dye's liner at third.
The Orioles quickly claimed the lead in the inning's bottom half. Consecutive two-out singles by Palmeiro and Davis preceded a balk by Rosado. Ripken followed with a two-hop grounder that devoured backpedaling third baseman Craig Paquette. The error allowed two runs.
Kamieniecki retired 10 of his next 12 hitters faced, overcoming Ripken's first error in 15 years at third base and Bell's single in the third inning.
However, his strong run ended in the fifth.
"When you can spot start a guy like Kamieniecki, that tells it all right there," said Hoiles. "Last year we started with [Alan] Mills and Arthur [Rhodes] on the DL. We had Triple-A guys and sometimes when we got in the seventh and eighth innings, we really didn't know what we had.
"Now we know what we've got. When we get into the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, we know we've got the guys to get people out."
Rhodes pitched two innings to pick up the win. Myers closed, allowing a two-out triple to Goodwin, for his second save, completing the two-day smash-and-grab.
Pub Date: 4/04/97