CLEVELAND -- Today the Orioles invade Yankee Stadium, the setting where Lou Gehrig once called himself "the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."
Yesterday, reliever Terry Mathews stood in the middle of Jacobs Field feeling like the loneliest man on the face of the Earth.
Undone by their worst bullpen spectacle of the season, the Orioles fought mightily against the Cleveland Indians only to lose a 7-6 game in the middle innings. For a team spoiled by airtight relief, the experience was unsettling. Dominant in his last outing, Mathews was lost yesterday.
The feeling must be a fleeting one. The Orioles need to square themselves in time for New York Yankees ace Andy Pettitte this afternoon. Still on a tear that has them leading their division by six games, they face a Yankees team that has lost five of six and desperately needs to reclaim lost ground.
Arthur Rhodes and Mathews need to reclaim their form. The two combined on a four-walk, two-hit, three-run sixth inning that began with two outs and ended with the Indians holding a 7-4 lead.
Rhodes, who surrendered a fifth-inning home run to David Justice, began the telling rally by surrendering a two-out single to Jim Thome. Interim manager Rick Down replaced Rhodes with the right-handed Mathews against Matt Williams and the onslaught started. Mathews threw 29 pitches, 18 of them balls and one a run-scoring wild pitch. He walked four straight hitters and had to be rescued after facing five batters.
It got so bad, Mathews said, "I was just praying I'd throw one close enough that they'd make contact and put it in fair territory."
Marred by a 1-hour, 57-minute rain delay, 14 walks, two wild pitches and two errors, the 3: 28 epic finally ended with the bases loaded and Eric Davis and Rafael Palmeiro unable to continue a two-run ninth-inning rally. Mike Jackson struck out the slumping Davis on an eye-high fastball before left-handed closer Alvin Morman entered to strike out Palmeiro on three pitches, two in the dirt.
The Orioles, who have won six of eight, were within a hit of duplicating their week-old 8-7 win against the Seattle Mariners but instead left town with only their second series loss of the season.
Despite a shaky performance by second-time starter Mike Johnson, the Orioles had chances to win if not for the bullpen meltdown. Entering the game, the pen had allowed only three earned runs in the last 11 games while compiling a 1.00 ERA. Mathews had allowed only three of 14 inherited runners to score.
Mathews exhibited telltale rust. He hadn't pitched since May 17 in Seattle, a brilliant 2 1/3 -inning performance he called his best this year. With two days off wedged into last week, his routine was blown.
"It hasn't been there the last few days," he said. "It's just a lack of game-intensity-type throwing."
Yesterday's sixth inning got real intense real quick. Hustled into the inning with two outs after Thome singled, Mathews was neither loose nor confident. He got two strikes on Williams then collapsed after surrendering a broken-bat hit.
In quick order, Mathews all but intentionally walked Justice -- who was 7-for-9 in the series to raise his average to a
league-leading .395 -- to load the bases, then forced home runs with three more walks and a wild pitch. Mathews walked Tony Fernandez and Sandy Alomar back-to-back. The two had worked only 12 walks in 274 previous plate appearances.
"I was one pitch away from the first batter [Williams]. Two strikes and I broke his bat," Mathews said.
"After that, I didn't give Justice a chance. Fernandez hit two weak ground balls foul. It wasn't like they were hitting the ball foul when they made contact. It wasn't like I didn't want to throw the ball over the plate. I just couldn't."
Mathews typically receives more warning than on yesterday. Though Rhodes (2-2) was stuck with the loss, Mathews was covered by dejection.
"I always feel like I can get everybody out. Pitches I threw in the dirt went to the screen. I was trying to throw them to the catcher's mitt," he said. "That just shows how little an idea I had of where the ball was going."
His interim manager was less downcast.
"We had our opportunities. It just didn't happen for us today," said Down, who likely will manage today's opener against the Yankees, though there are indications that the family matter that forced Davey Johnson to return home has been resolved. "We continually battled. That's what I liked. We could have just packed our bags and said let's get off to New York and get ready for tomorrow."
Able to generate 24 hits the last two days, the Orioles tied the game three times against Indians starting pitcher Charles Nagy (6-2) but could never construct a huge inning while constantly playing from behind.
Brady Anderson contributed three RBIs and nearly tied the game with a bases-loaded double in the ninth and shortstop Mike Bordick's two hits enabled him to end a game over .200 for the first time this season.
With the bases loaded against Jackson, Anderson doubled into the right-center-field gap. B. J. Surhoff and Tony Tarasco scored, but with one out pinch runner Jeff Reboulet was held at third. He never moved again.
Meanwhile, Johnson did nothing to improve his security within the starting rotation. He needed 70 pitches against 17 hitters, allowing six hits, three walks, three runs and a titanic home run to Alomar to begin the second inning.
Johnson too often trailed in counts. When he got ahead, as he did against Justice and Manny Ramirez in the first inning, he was unable to finish the at-bat.
Overaggressive, the Indians did little to exploit early chances. Marquis Grissom led off the game with a single and was thrown out stealing by Lenny Webster. It cost a run. Julio Franco walked, took second on Thome's single then scored on Justice's two-out single. Justice trailed 0-2 before lining his sixth hit of the series. Likewise, Johnson walked Ramirez after getting ahead 0-2.
With a chance to blow open the game, the Indians fell victim to Fernandez's impatience. Ahead 3-1 in the count, he skied weakly to right field.
Sandy Alomar entered hitting 74 points higher than his more versatile brother and pressed his advantage in the second. Alomar drove Johnson's second pitch onto the left-field concourse an estimated 440 feet away for a 2-0 lead.
In the third, the Orioles forced the first tie but gave away an out.
Tarasco, bunting for a hit, and Bordick both singled with one out before Anderson singled home Tarasco. With Bordick at third base, Roberto Alomar drove Grissom to the center-field warning track. While Bordick scored for a 2-2 game, Anderson kept running and was unable to retrace his steps in time to avoid being doubled off first.
Surhoff absolved Johnson of a possible decision by hooking his sixth home run around the right-field foul pole to lead off the fifth inning, making it 3-3.
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Yankee Stadium, New York
Time: 1: 05 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Scott Erickson (8-1, 2.34) vs. Yankees' Andy Pettitte (6-2, 2.50 ERA)
Pub Date: 5/26/97