OAKLAND, Calif. -- Two months into the season and Jimmy Key's routine already has become monotonous. Give him a cool night, some big-swinging brutes and his predictable control and enjoy the cruise control.
The first pitcher to reach six wins, Key last night became the first to reach seven by holding down the Oakland A's for the second time in 11 days. This time the Orioles walked away with a 5-1 win and a new offensive hero to go with their pitching standby.
On display for others as much as for general manager Pat Gillick and assistant Kevin Malone, right fielder Tony Tarasco ripped into A's starting pitcher Steve Karsay (0-4) for a two-out, three-run homer in the Orioles' four-run fourth inning. The possible exchange for Philadelphia Phillies masher Darren Daulton, Tarasco reminded anyone interested that he can give the look of an everyday player.
Tarasco's blast gave Key a 4-0 lead. Such is the definition of a lock. Key carried the game a quick-moving 7 2/3 innings, allowing six hits, one earned run and lowering his ERA to 1.83 without a strikeout or a walk.
"I've always said when I'm healthy I can pitch," said Key. "I've proved that over my career. As long as I don't have to worry about my arm, I can throw between starts and get my control and that's how I pitch."
Key extended his run of scoreless innings to 16 before surrendering his only run on Jose Canseco's one-out double in the fourth as Oakland lost its sixth game in a row.
At 7-0, Key matched the second-best start by a starting pitcher in franchise history. Ben McDonald also won his first seven decisions in 1994. Only Dave McNally, who won his first 15 in 1969, remains ahead of Key.
The A's didn't manage their first base runner until the Orioles led 4-0. Even then, Key never allowed the tying run to come to the plate before handing the lead over to Armando Benitez in the eighth. Benitez got out of the eighth inning with one pitch and was allowed to complete the ninth as well. The win moved the Orioles to 24-11 and four games ahead of second-place New York.
The Orioles, who have mistreated mediocre clubs, again caught a team at the right time. The A's were coming off a calamitous road trip that saw them lose 10 of 13, including two of three in Baltimore and their last five. Their team ERA skyrocketed from 4.78 to 5.70 and their batting average fell from .257 to .247. As assistant general manager Billy Beane lamented, "The problems are obvious. The solutions aren't."
There were no easy answers to Key. He sailed through the first three innings in only 35 pitches and Karsay performed a reasonable facsimile.
The Orioles produced only two runners through three, Eric Davis on a first-inning error and Brady Anderson on a third-inning single.
Key dominated the A's and Karsay May 2, allowing only four hits and one walk while striking out five in eight innings. He needed only 99 pitches.
Yet to lose a series this year, the Orioles completely stifled the A's in their earlier three-game meeting. Oakland managed only 16 hits, a .172 average and five runs.
Karsay is one of three A's starters still searching for his first win. Conversely, the Orioles began the series with the big three of Key, Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson a combined 16-2.
After remaining in control for three innings, Karsay spun out in the fourth vs. the Orioles' coldest, hottest and most available hitters. With one out, Rafael Palmeiro interrupted a 2-for-29 slump with a double to right field. Palmeiro, who had seen his average plummet from .300 to .250 the last two weeks, endured an 0-for-20 drought before singling last Friday. Cal Ripken's groundout left Palmeiro at second, but B. J. Surhoff followed up Sunday's six-RBI game by doubling to right-center for a 1-0 lead. Interestingly, Surhoff only needed a double to hit for the cycle on Sunday.
Surhoff entered last night's game hitting .412 over his last 18 games, bumping his average from .172 to .340. Chris Hoiles extended the inning when he was hit by a pitch for the sixth time this year. Clearly peeved, he glared at Karsay before taking his base. At that point, the Orioles had been hit twice as often (16) this season as their opponents. (Hoiles got hit a second time later in the game.)
Tarasco then shattered the game on the next pitch with a towering shot into the right-center-field bleachers. Impressed, he momentarily stood at the plate to shout at his game-busting blast. Hoiles likewise verbally whipped Karsay as he scored.
The homer only augments Tarasco's attractiveness. Beginning with his two hits in last Thursday's rout of Randy Johnson and the Mariners, Tarasco has enjoyed two multiple-hit games and a three-run shot.
"I went into Davey [Johnson] the night before and told him to let me play against Randy," said Tarasco. "I told him I wanted Randy. I wanted to kill the theory that I can't hit against left-handers."
But he knows his good fortune can change quickly.
"Baseball changes like the wind," Tarasco said. "I've got to check myself. You come around in a week and Jerome [Walton] could be feeling better and he's back in there. I've got to try to take advantage of things when I can."
Key lost his run of perfection in the fourth. Rafael Bournigal doubled with one out and scored when Canseco followed with another. But the rally stopped there.
"For the most part, I've stayed out of big innings," Key said. "That's why we've won seven games. The American League is a big-inning lead. You can get beat in one inning. I've been able to avoid that."
The Orioles built on their three-run lead in the fifth. Anderson doubled over defensively deficient right fielder Geronimo Berroa for a leadoff double, but was thrown out at third on Roberto Alomar's poorly placed bunt.
Davis, playing for the first time in five days, also doubled over Berroa but Alomar only made third. Palmeiro was intentionally walked, loading the bases for Ripken. The Orioles took a 5-1 lead when Ripken scalded a line drive to left field for a sacrifice fly and his team-high 31st RBI.
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site: Oakland (Calif.) Coliseum
Time: 3: 15 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (4-1, 3.57) vs. A's Mike Mohler (0-4, 5.93)
Pub Date: 5/13/97