The Orioles flirted with their fifth shutout in nine games last night, and not the good kind. The beleaguered batting order ran its string of scoreless innings to 19 and showed the crowd of 47,900 why general manager Pat Gillick has been busily working the phones for weeks trying to acquire another solid hitter.
Gillick finally succeeded yesterday, but the team succumbed again, this time looking helpless against Toronto Blue Jays fifth starter Robert Person on the way to a 2-1 loss at Camden Yards.
The 27-year-old right-hander shut down the Orioles on three hits over 7 2/3 innings on the way to his third victory of the year as the Blue Jays assured themselves of a split of the four-game series and worked into position to take a decent chunk out of their large divisional deficit with a few more victories.
Perhaps more important to the Orioles, the back-to-back losses have allowed the second-place New York Yankees to creep back within 6 1/2 games of the American League East lead.
RTC Help is on the way. The Orioles announced at game time that they had acquired power-hitting outfielder Geronimo Berroa from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for minor-league right-hander Jimmy Haynes and a player to be named.
Berroa probably will be in uniform for tomorrow's game, but in the meantime, the Orioles needed to get some offensive production out of the players they already have, especially after being shut out four times in their previous eight games.
Their desperation showed in the ninth inning, when Roberto Alomar -- representing the potential tying run -- was thrown out at third to end the game trying to tag up on a medium-deep fly ball.
The book says you never make the first or last out of an inning at third base, but Alomar pressed his luck and was nailed by right fielder Orlando Merced.
"There are advantages when you get to third base, since it clears second base to put another runner in scoring position," manager Davey Johnson said, "but you never want to get thrown out at third to end a game. It can be a good play if you make it, but it's a bad play if you don't."
Alomar defended his effort, but even he did not vigorously defend the play. He knew that it was a mistake, but he wasn't hanging his head in the clubhouse.
"We haven't been scoring a lot of runs," he said. "We haven't been hitting with men on base a lot. We've been struggling, so I was trying to be aggressive and make something happen. Making the third out at third is not a good play, but you learn from it and move on."
Roger Clemens turned the Orioles' lineup inside out in the series opener Thursday night, which wasn't necessarily a reflection on the club's offensive potential, but Person doesn't have quite the same overpowering presence on the mound.
Still, he retired the first 12 Orioles he faced and carried a shutout into the eighth inning, which only underscored the importance of the trade to beef up the middle of the lineup.
The Orioles have been struggling at the plate since catcher Chris Hoiles went down with a knee injury June 16, coming into last night's game with an average of just 3.3 runs per game in the nine games he had missed.
If the batting order continued to produce well below the season average (5.3 runs per game), the starting rotation continued to string together solid performances.
Orioles right-hander Scott Kamieniecki didn't flirt with a no-hitter, but he gave up just two runs through the first six innings and kept the team close enough to make a late-inning run.
"He had spells where he looked like he couldn't find home plate," Johnson said, "but he held us in the game. It was a good-pitched ballgame."
Person didn't give up a hit until Cal Ripken opened the fifth inning with a single to center. He gave up a ground single to Mike Bordick in the sixth and a couple of long fly balls in the late innings, but he never was in serious trouble until the Orioles broke through for a run in the eighth on a pinch-hit RBI double by Tony Tarasco.
Person left with two outs in the eighth inning, and three Blue Jays relievers scuffled to get the final four outs.
Kamieniecki was not as efficient, but he was effective, working seven innings and giving up just five hits and two walks. He pitched with runners on base in each of the first five innings, but gave up only single runs in the fourth and fifth.
Joe Carter opened the fourth inning with a double down the left-field line and moved around to score the game's first run on a groundout by Carlos Delgado and a sacrifice fly by Ed Sprague. Kamieniecki got himself into another jam in the fifth with a couple of walks, then allowed an RBI single to Merced before working out of trouble.
It was another solid performance by the Orioles' fourth starter, who came into the game with four victories in his previous five decisions and has given up more than four earned runs only once in 15 starts. He has filled the fourth slot admirably, but has not been the recipient of particularly generous offensive support.
The club has averaged just 4.4 runs per game in his starts -- and that includes two lopsided performances that account for a full third of his total run support. In the other 13 games, the Orioles' scoring average was just 3.4 runs per game.
"Right now, we're not scoring runs like we have most of the season," said Kamieniecki (6-4). "At some point during the year, the hitting is going to carry the pitching, but right now we're not playing the way we're capable of playing."
Pub Date: 6/28/97
Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays
Site: Oriole Park
Time: 7: 05
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Blue Jays' Woody Williams (2-7, 4.65) vs. O's Jimmy Key (11-3, 2.59)
Tickets: Fewer than 300