SEATTLE -- The Seattle Mariners paid a heavy price to upgrade their bullpen last week, giving up top prospect Jose Cruz Jr. to acquire two pitchers from the Toronto Blue Jays and making a separate deal to acquire closer Heathcliff Slocumb.
They certainly are better for it, and last night they matched a strong Orioles bullpen pitch-for-pitch in the late innings until third baseman Russ Davis homered in the bottom of the ninth to give them a sudden-death 4-3 victory in the first game of a three-game series at the Kingdome.
Davis hit the first pitch off reliever Terry Mathews over the center-field fence for his 16th home run of the season and the Mariners handed the Orioles only their third loss in the last 14 games, cutting their lead over the New York Yankees to 4 1/2 games.
Ironically enough, it was embattled Mariners closer Norm Charlton who got the victory after pitching a perfect ninth inning. He has been reduced to a setup role since the acquisition of Slocumb and Mike Timlin, but he looked like he was back in the closer role when he plowed through the top of the Orioles' lineup.
Charlton combined with newly acquired middleman Paul Spoljaric to pitch 3 2/3 hitless innings of relief after starter Omar Olivares struggled into the sixth in an undistinguished duel with Orioles left-hander Jimmy Key. The Orioles also got an all-around effort from the bullpen, including four straight outs by Mathews before Davis sent him to only his second loss of the season.
Key gave up three runs on just three hits over five innings, but one mistake pitch was enough to force him to settle for his third straight no-decision.
Key had surprising trouble locating the plate in the early innings. He retired the Mariners in order in the first, but walked three batters in the second and watched in disgust as two of them came home to score on Dan Wilson's three-run homer.
Wilson hit a towering fly ball to left that barely cleared both the left-field fence and the glove of left fielder B. J. Surhoff, who made a leaping attempt and came so close to catching it that the base runners were heading backward until second base umpire Brian O'Nora signaled that it was a home run.
Considering the run support that Key has been getting lately, it was a very big blow. In his previous two starts, the Orioles had scored in just one of the 14 innings in which he took the mound -- in the second inning of a July 26 start against the Minnesota Twins.
The Orioles won that game in the 12th and also won the next time he pitched, though he had been gone four innings before they got on the scoreboard in an 11-inning victory over the Oakland Athletics. Two outstanding pitching lines. Two no-decisions.
This time, however, he actually took the mound with the lead. Brady Anderson hit the first pitch of the game into the gap in left-center and moved around to score on a groundout by Jeff Reboulet and a sacrifice fly by Rafael Palmeiro.
Wilson's homer gave the Mariners a two-run lead, but the Orioles chipped away with another leadoff double in the third -- this time by Chris Hoiles -- and another display of good situational hitting. Mike Bordick moved him up with a groundout to the right side and Reboulet brought him home with a groundout to short.
The Orioles' offensive lineup took a big hit when second baseman Roberto Alomar went down with a severe groin strain, but Reboulet has done everything but wear Alomar's number since taking over at second base and moving into the second slot in the lineup.
He entered the game with nine hits in 19 at-bats (.474) since taking over and did something productive in each of his first three at-bats last night. He also has played solid defense.
Talk about sticking to the script. The Orioles tied the game in the sixth inning with another leadoff double and another run-scoring out. Cal Ripken lined a ball into the left-field corner, moved up on a sharp ground ball that glanced off shortstop Alex Rodriguez's glove for a hit and scored on a sacrifice fly by Hoiles.
Olivares, who came over to Seattle in a July deal with the Detroit Tigers, struggled through 5 1/3 innings and proved that it's better to be lucky than good. He gave up nine hits and allowed 12 base runners, but got out of a big jam in the fourth when Bordick lined out to right, and another in the fifth when B. J. Surhoff hit a sharp line drive right into the glove of left fielder Rich Amaral.
He finally gave way to Spoljaric with a run in and two runners on in the sixth, and got lucky again when Rodriguez made a great play to run down a looper by Anderson and turn an inning-ending double play. All things considered, he was very fortunate to get away with a no-decision.
Looking for help
Orioles left-hander Jimmy Key was 12-4 after a 10-1 win over Detroit July 3, but wins -- and, in most cases, runs -- have been few and far between ever since:
Date Opp. .. IP .. ER .. .. Decision
7/11 Mil. ... 6 ... 2 .. .. L, 3-1
7/16 Bos. .. 6 2/3 4 .. .. L, 4-1
7/21 Tex. ... 6 ... 1 .. .. W, 5-1
7/26 Min. ... 7 ... 1 .. .. ND*
7/31 Oak. ... 7 ... 0 .. .. ND*
8/5 Sea. .. . 5 ... 3 .. .. ND
* -- Orioles won in extra innings
Pub Date: 8/06/97