The Orioles may be a team of limitless possibilities, but yesterday they were undone by their limited roster.
Manager Davey Johnson was almost out of players before the game began. The Seattle Mariners still had former 23-homer guy Mike Blowers available to pinch hit in the 11th inning, and he delivered a tie-breaking single off closer Randy Myers that carried the Mariners to a 3-2 victory before a sellout crowd of 47,340 at Camden Yards.
It isn't easy playing 11 innings with a total of 11 available position players. Eric Davis still is sidelined with a hamstring injury. Jeffrey Hammonds was unavailable, too. That left the Orioles to send two left-handed hitters and catcher Lenny Webster to the plate against left-handed Mariners closer Norm Charlton in the final inning. Advantage Seattle.
"We were limited, yeah," Johnson said afterward. "They threw a lot of left-handed pitching against us and we had a couple of our right-handed players on the pine."
Johnson has been trying to sneak through this medical minefield for the past few weeks and he has -- for the most part -- succeeded. The Orioles (22-11) entered the game with the best record in the major leagues, but it became apparent by the end of the afternoon that some changes would have to be made soon to keep the team moving in the right direction.
The club made one of them after the game, sending struggling right-hander Rocky Coppinger back to the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings and recalling reliever Brian Williams.
Johnson immediately announced that Rule 5 draft choice Mike Johnson would replace Coppinger in the starting rotation and make his first major-league start on Wednesday.
That, of course, had no bearing on yesterday's game, in which two of the best offensive teams in the game tried to prove that you don't have to hit the ball hard to win.
Mariners left-hander Jeff Fassero pitched masterfully for eight innings, but stood to lose the game until Seattle shortstop Alex Rodriguez squeezed three bases out of an apparent single to set up the tying run in the top of the eighth.
Rodriguez lined a one-out base hit to center and aggressively streaked into second base ahead of the throw from Orioles center fielder Brady Anderson. Then he stole third and scored on sacrifice fly by Ken Griffey to buy time for the extra-inning victory.
"The grass has been a little bit higher than it usually is, and I knew the ball was going to slow down before it got to Brady," Rodriguez said. "I don't know, I think I caught him by surprise a little bit."
It was that kind of game, where little things turned into big runs. Orioles starter Scott Kamieniecki also turned in an outstanding performance, giving up just a run on seven hits over seven innings while the Orioles were manufacturing the two runs they hoped would be enough to defeat another tough Mariners lefty.
This is just what general manager Pat Gillick and manager Davey Johnson envisioned when they were reconfiguring the Orioles' roster over the winter. They wanted a team that could still get something done against a dominant opposing pitcher, and that's just what happened in yesterday's game.
Fassero gave up just three ground ball hits over eight innings, but the Orioles sacrificed twice to turn an error into a run in the fourth and then played little ball again in the seventh to take a one-run lead.
Right fielder Pete Incaviglia reached on an error by Mariners third baseman Russ Davis to lead off the fourth. Chris Hoiles walked and B. J. Surhoff moved over both runners with a sacrifice bunt. Webster brought Incaviglia home with a sacrifice fly to left.
In the seventh, Surhoff walked to lead off the inning and Webster moved him up with a sacrifice before a two-out, broken-bat single by Anderson broke the 1-1 tie.
Rafael Palmeiro almost won it in both the eighth and 10th innings. He made a bid for his first home run since April 22 in the eighth, but left fielder Rich Amaral made a leaping catch against the wall. In the 10th, Anderson led off with a single and Roberto Alomar bunted him over, but Cal Ripken grounded out and Palmeiro lined a ball right at first baseman Paul Sorrento.
"We manufactured a couple of runs," Johnson said, "and we had other opportunities. Raffy lined a ball right at somebody and their guy hit a three-hopper through the infield."
Blowers, pinch hitting for right fielder Rob Ducey with two on and two outs in the 11th, pulled a bouncer through the left side of the infield to score Sorrento from second base with the deciding run.
The Orioles, who averaged one sacrifice bunt every six games last year, sacrificed successfully three times in yesterday's game, but this was one game when they could have used a big swing. The only home run in the game was hit by diminutive Mariners leadoff man Joey Cora in the first inning as the Orioles' eight-game homer streak ended.
Myers, who pitched the final two innings, blamed the public address system for the leadoff walk that led to the go-ahead run. He had a full count on Rodriguez and was going into his windup when home plate umpire Dave Phillips called timeout to instruct the public address booth to stop the music.
"I got screwed up because the music was playing and I pulled a muscle when I tried to slow everything down," Myers said. "That messed me up the rest of the way. Whoever that guy is up there ought to be fired. That's the second time that has happened on this homestand."
Myers declined to identify the muscle he strained, but said that he hopes to be available for the finale of the four-game series today.
Opponent: Seattle Mariners
Site: Oriole Park
Time: 1:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Mariners' Dennis Martinez (1-2, 5.75) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (5-1, 2.89)
Tickets: 700 remain
Rocky Coppinger, who was sent down to Triple-A Rochester yesterday, has struggled in three of his five appearances this season:
Date, Opp., IP, H, ER, BB, W-L
4/16, Chi., 4, 3, 0, 0, ND
4/23, Chi., 2 2/3 , 4, 6, 6, ND
4/29, Min., 4 1/3 , 3, 3, 3, ND
5/4, Oak., 6, 3, 0, 4, W
5/9, Sea., 3, 8, 5, 3, L
Tot., 20, 21, 14, 16, 1-1
Pub Date: 5/11/97