SEATTLE -- Maybe May proves nothing. Maybe deflating an expected October rival with its starting pitching down sends no message louder than a whisper. But when spliced with last week's takeout of Randy Johnson in Camden Yards, the Orioles demonstrated to the Seattle Mariners last night that they have more ways to win.
With starting pitcher Jimmy Key at less than his best and their lineup careless with scoring opportunities, the Orioles still managed a 4-3 win before 57,304 at the Kingdome.
Needing more pitches than usual, Key (8-0) went only 5 2/3 innings, equaling his shortest outing this year, but became the first pitcher in either league to gain his eighth win. He did so because left fielder B. J. Surhoff continued two weeks of torrid production and his bullpen closed it out despite a rocky ninth inning.
Middle reliever Terry Mathews held the game together after Key's early departure until the ninth, when the Orioles ran into trouble.
Randy Myers came on and couldn't notch his 14th save, allowing run-scoring singles to Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey.
Manager Davey Johnson then turned to Armando Benitez, and he got Edgar Martinez to fly out to right with the tying run on second base to end it for his fourth save.
For a second consecutive game, the Mariners served up a pitcher on the skids. Scott Sanders (0-5) was making his first start in a month. Dennis Martinez had been in danger of making the last start of his career on Friday.
Surhoff reached Sanders for a second-inning home run to give the Orioles the lead. A two-run rally in the fourth pushed the lead to 3-0 before Surhoff returned in the seventh to single home Brady Anderson for a 4-1 lead.
While Rafael Palmeiro slumps and Eric Davis gets healthy, Surhoff has saved the middle of the order. He has doubled in five of his past six games and homered in four of his past nine.
Key's win further added to the top three starters' growing resumes. The Orioles' Big Three of Key, Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson now stands 20-2 with a combined 2.72 ERA. Key's ERA dipped to 1.80.
Spring statement games aside, the Orioles have now won four of six from the Mariners and today go after a second victory in 10 days against Johnson.
Key was vulnerable but again refused to break. The Mariners were 0-for-5 against Key with runners in scoring position, dropping opponents' batting average against him to .103 (4-for-39) in such situations.
Key entered with an unblemished record but his past three starts had been especially convincing -- 3-0 with an 0.83 ERA and only 16 hits in 21 2/3 innings. In his career, however, Key had a higher ERA (4.49) against the Mariners than any other American League team.
Key got into early trouble but escaped. Rich Amaral led off the Mariners' first with a single and advanced to second on Griffey's one-out single. The runners then worked a double steal, which led to Key walking Martinez to load the bases. Key fell behind Jay Buhner 3-1 before getting him to ground sharply to third. Cal Ripken and Roberto Alomar worked the double play to end the inning.
Key again worked out of a jam in the fourth inning after Martinez and Buhner led off with consecutive hits. Three straight fly balls ended the inning.
The Orioles also were frustrated early, but came back against a pitcher of far less quality.
In the first, Anderson and Alomar were stranded after reaching to lead off the game.
In the second, Surhoff hammered Sanders for his fifth home run. The drive to right field carried about 420 feet before ricocheting off the club-level facade.
The threat continued when Sanders issued back-to-back walks to Chris Hoiles and Tony Tarasco. Mariners manager Lou Piniella then stormed to the mound to scold his pitcher. Sanders responded by striking out Anderson with runners at second and third then getting Alomar to ground sharply to third baseman Russ Davis. Believing the play behind him, Hoiles broke slowly to home. However, Davis mishandled the shot and threw instead at Hoiles, who was blocked off the plate by catcher Dan Wilson and tagged out.
Fed a steady diet of high fastballs, the Orioles finally increased Key's working margin with two runs in the fourth. Surhoff singled and took second on Hoiles' single. Anderson then wheeled on Sanders, hooking a smash over the first-base bag into the Orioles' bullpen. By the time Buhner dug the ball from beneath a bullpen bench, Anderson stood at third with two RBIs and the Orioles led 3-0.
Against Sanders, the Orioles enjoyed their most advantageous matchup of the season.
In his first four starts, all losses, Sanders had allowed 23 earned runs and eight home runs over 19 2/3 innings. His most recent start had been April 18. He had allowed at least five earned runs in every outing before exiting last night with three runs allowed in 5 1/3 innings. Key, meanwhile, entered with the best run support of any AL pitcher, an average 8.28 runs per game.
Key lost his shutout in the fifth inning when Rodriguez smacked his sixth home run to dead center field. It was the first homer allowed by Key in four starts this month.
Opponent: Seattle Mariners
Site: Kingdome, Seattle
Time: 4:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (5-1, 3.68) vs. Mariners' Randy Johnson (5-1, 2.78)
Pub Date: 5/18/97