Big Ben tolls as O's clocked, 3-1 McDonald no-hits ex-team for 6 innings, exits with stiff shoulder; 3-hit loss O's 4th in row; Brewers deal 12-5 Key his 4th loss in 5 starts

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Thankfully, the Orioles will never know. Ben McDonald disappeared into the visitors' third base dugout after six innings last night, taking with him a chance at history that will forever remain an open question.

Exiled to Milwaukee, the former Oriole (8-6) held his ex-teammates hitless before a stiff right shoulder forced him from what ended as a 3-1 win for the Brewers and a not-so-subtle hint that he'd be willing to return to the organization that once made him a No. 1 draft pick. The Orioles tumbled to a fourth consecutive loss with only three hits.

"We give up [nine] hits. We give up three runs. We usually win those games," said manager Davey Johnson.

Not this night. The Orioles no longer hit as necessary. For the fourth time in five starts they supported Jimmy Key (12-5) with two runs or fewer.

They suffered consecutive losses before the break despite seven home runs. Last night they waited for a hit until Rafael Palmeiro's one-out single in the seventh off reliever Mike Fetters. They waited for a run until pinch hitter Tony Tarasco doubled in the eighth inning against Fetters. Orioles exile Doug Jones got the last three outs for his 21st save.

McDonald hardly entered on a roll. He had won only one of seven starts since May 31 and was 0-3 with a 7.34 ERA in six road starts since April 18. Against his former team, McDonald was 1-1 with a 8.36 ERA in three starts.

McDonald lamented his lost chance but he also pointed to his request to leave the game as proof of greater maturity. A younger, more shortsighted pitcher may have pressed on despite the pain.

"Six or seven years ago I would have kept pitching and who knows what would have happened?" said McDonald, 29. "I'd like to pitch six or seven more years. I think it will happen again."

McDonald hopes the Orioles were watching. The small-market Brewers are going nowhere. McDonald carries a high salary. The deep-pocketed Orioles are serious about acquiring help for their starting rotation.

"I've heard I'm going to the [Colorado] Rockies. I've heard Cleveland and Baltimore," McDonald said. "I still don't read the papers or watch the news. I just hear it from other guys. 'You're going here. You're going there.'

"I've taken the stance of why worry about it? If I did come here, this would be the easiest transition for me, obviously. It's been great in Milwaukee, but I do miss the fans here. Other than the crab cakes, that's what I miss the most."

McDonald carries a heavy dollar sign. Should he make 32 starts, he can exercise an option guaranteeing him $5.5 million for 1998. The Orioles like him. But do they like him that much?

"I'd love to have him back here," said disabled catcher Chris Hoiles, one of McDonald's closest friends during his seven years in Baltimore. "You can tell he's a lot more comfortable as a pitcher. He's taken it up a notch."

McDonald required nothing out of the ordinary to sustain his no-hitter. The Orioles managed only one base runner against him -- B. J. Surhoff was hit by a pitch with two outs in the second inning -- and pushed only four balls to the outfield.

"I hated more than anything having to come out. However, I thought it was a very smart thing to do. It's not about one game or one start. Maybe if I kept pitching, who knows what would have happened?" McDonald said.

Maybe he would have blown out. Or maybe he would have gone all the way. Either way, the Orioles were destined for their 12th loss in 22 games.

These are not the Orioles of April, May or early June. They have lost eight of 13 and now lead the New York Yankees by only 5 1/2 games.

For Key, the honeymoon is literally over. Key returned from his July 8 wedding and experienced his second loss to the Brewers in 2 1/2 weeks. Key fell to 1-4 in his last five starts.

Key threw at Camden Yards on Wednesday, the day after he was married on the Eastern Shore. Everything was fine. Last night was a different story.

"It just wasn't there tonight," he said. "Sometimes that happens."

The Brewers used Key's first-inning throwing error on an attempted pickoff to take a 1-0 lead. Key actually averted a potential disaster by limiting the Brewers to one run after they had loaded the bases with none out.

Key faltered again in the second inning. Pitching coach Ray Miller went to the mound to lend advice. The Orioles began to put on pickoff plays in an attempt to help Key through trouble.

(Key would attempt 19 pickoffs. "I'm looking for outs any way I can get them tonight," he said.)

In the third inning, after Jeromy Burnitz took third base on a clumsily played fly ball, Cal Ripken called a two-out pickoff. However, the play backfired when catcher Lenny Webster's throw short-hopped behind Burnitz and skipped into the outfield.

"A lot of [the sloppy defense] has to do with me. When you're out there throwing balls, balls, balls, you're not going to have good things happen behind you," said Key, who needed 107 pitches to clear six innings. "A lot of times I'll get good plays made behind me because I throw a lot of strikes. I know tonight if I'm in the field I'm thinking, 'Geez, throw the ball over the plate.' It was just an ugly game and I felt bad about it. But as much as I tried to get ahead of people, it just didn't work tonight."

The Orioles committed three misplays in the first three innings. At least the Brewers' final run, a leadoff home run by ex-Oriole Jack Voigt, called for no second-guessing.

"I don't know if it was the layoff or what, but he's normally on the knees and tonight he was throwing high fastballs," Johnson said. "I asked him to just try and get it down a little bit. He said the ball feels like a Wiffle Ball in his hand. Even with that, three runs in six innings, we're in the game."

The Orioles put up a much better fight against Fetters than they did McDonald, stranding two runners in the seventh inning before Tarasco's pinch-hit double scored Jeffrey Hammonds, who had led off with a single.

But like the inning before, the Orioles left unfinished business at third base when Brady Anderson and left-handed-hitting Roberto Alomar couldn't get the ball out of the infield against left-hander Ron Villone, who followed Fetters after Tarasco's hit.

Second thoughts

Even with last night's loss, the Orioles have a long way to go to equal the 1-5 start to the second half (all home games) that followed last year's All-Star break:

Opp., WP, LP, Result

NY, Key, Mussina, L 4-2

NY, Nelson, Wells, L 3-2

NY, Gooden, Rhodes, L 7-5

NY, Pettitte, Erickson, L 4-1

Tor, Haynes, Timlin, W 8-6

Tor, Guzman, Mussina, L 6-0

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Milwaukee Brewers

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Brewers' Cal Eldred (8-8, 5.50) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (11-4, 3.81)

# Tickets: 200 remain

Pub Date: 7/12/97

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