CHICAGO -- Forced into a makeshift lineup shortly before batting practice, the Orioles paid for their improvisation last night against the Chicago White Sox.
With Shawn Boskie unable to find himself in his first outing since April 5, the White Sox and rejuvenated starter Doug Drabek flogged the Orioles early, leaving them with an ugly 9-3 loss. Now it is the Orioles who wait to get well.
Played out before an announced crowd of 14,061, this game was payback for the solid play and good fortune of the last week. A lineup card resembling Davey Johnson's previous five was torn up three hours before the game when a series of nagging injuries flared. The result was an early blowout for the White Sox, who improved to 4-9 while the Orioles' league-best record slipped to 9-3.
Drabek, lost in two previous starts, earned his first win by holding the Orioles to three hits and one run over eight innings. The dormant bats of Albert Belle and Frank Thomas finally awoke. The ugly combination left the Orioles trailing 9-1 after four innings.
The Orioles had won five straight but not with anything resembling this lineup, a concoction including Jerome Walton in center field and Pete Incaviglia in right. Second baseman Roberto Alomar missed a second straight game, and Boskie was appearing on 10 days' rest.
The Orioles certainly weren't mailing this one in but the game seemed postmarked for trouble from the outset.
The Orioles entered on a five-game winning streak with a starting rotation that appeared to have found its legs. Both trends crashed against the White Sox, who received home runs from ex-Oriole Harold Baines and previously slumping Belle.
While the Orioles scratched for seven hits, four in a two-run ninth inning, the White Sox scored in each of the four innings they faced Boskie. The beating was the worst absorbed by an Orioles pitcher this season.
"I just didn't locate my fastball or my off-speed pitches. I don't know why, I just didn't," Boskie said.
The White Sox had no trouble locating them. In four innings, Boskie allowed nine runs (eight earned) on six hits and four walks. His night was ruined early when the White Sox reached him for four runs after two outs in the first inning.
The rally began harmlessly enough with a walk to Thomas. Belle then broke a 1-for-27 funk by doubling into right-center field. By -- stopping at third, Thomas invited an intentional walk of No. 5 hitter Baines. Here, Boskie hurt himself, walking Chris Snopek to force in a run. Hitting .191, Dave Martinez detonated the inning by tripling past the slow-arriving Incaviglia, who then overran the ricochet off the right-field fence.
The elements again ganged up on Incaviglia in the second. With two outs and a runner at first, Thomas lofted a fly ball that Incaviglia circled, appeared to have under control, then dropped for an error. Making only his second start in the outfield, Incaviglia was hardly assisted by a 20 mile-per-hour crosswind.
Wind was no factor in the White Sox's last four runs against Boskie. Baines led off the third inning with his second home run, bumping the lead to 6-1.
In the fourth, Belle continued his one-night recovery. Following Ozzie Guillen's double and a walk to Ray Durham, Belle drove his first home run in 46 at-bats into the left-field seats.
Boskie hadn't pitched since April 5, but given the chance to use it as an excuse, he balked. "I'm not even going to touch that. It doesn't matter. Once I got on the mound, my job stays the same. I just didn't do it," he said.
The regular-season debut of Rocky Coppinger had to stand as the night's good news. In four innings, he allowed three hits, no runs and struck out one. He is being pointed toward a start next week with another relief outing possible.
Coppinger, who made his first appearance in 17 days, threw freely and with control. He broke the White Sox's run with a scoreless fifth inning and retired the side in order in the seventh.
"I was surprised they would pitch anybody today. It was cold. I can't believe they would play baseball in something like this. It's kind of funny. A guy just comes off the DL and he's pitching in Chicago in the snow. But I guess you've got to do it," said Coppinger.
Making his third start of the season, Drabek carried a 15.95 ERA into the game. He cleared the fourth inning for the first time and kept going. The Orioles managed only two hits through seven innings, pushing only two runners into scoring position.
The Orioles put together token resistance against Drabek in the second. Walton walked, took second on a wild pitch and scored on Chris Hoiles' single.
For the first time this year, the top half of the lineup vanished. Only second baseman Jeff Reboulet proved a distraction to Drabek. Brady Anderson, who had reached base an average of three times per game, managed a first-inning walk and nothing more. Rafael Palmeiro struck out in his first two at-bats and fell into an 0-for-11 rut. Cal Ripken singled in the ninth inning to give him hits in 11 of 12 games.
And those were the regulars.
"That looked like the Drabek I remember from the National League," said Walton. "He pretty much kept us off balance all night. He was on with his changeup and his curveball. When he's like that, he's tough."
Opponent: Chicago White Sox
Site: Comiskey Park, Chicago
Time: 8: 05
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (1-1, 6.55 ERA) vs. White Sox's Danny Darwin (0-0, 1.17 ERA)
Pub Date: 4/17/97