ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Orioles have gotten spoiled by their bullpen, and particularly left-hander Arthur Rhodes, who had suffered just one loss in 1996 and two so far in 1997 before he unraveled in the eighth inning last night at Anaheim Stadium.
Rhodes gave up three runs on three hits and was the pitcher of record in a 4-3 loss to the Anaheim Angels that trimmed the Orioles' lead in the American League East to five games over the New York Yankees.
Doesn't happen very often. Rhodes was a combined 16-3 during the past two seasons. He has been one of the most dependable middle relievers in the game, but nobody's perfect.
He entered a tie game in the eighth in relief of right-hander Scott Kamieniecki but gave up a one-out single to Orlando Palmeiro and eventually surrendered a two-out RBI single to Darin Erstad and a two-run double to Dave Hollins that propelled left-hander Chuck Finley to his ninth straight victory and the surprising Angels back into first place in the AL West.
"I've been throwing the ball real good," Rhodes said, "but tonight wasn't the night. My mechanics were all messed up. I was trying to get the ball down in the strike zone, but everything was up and over the plate."
The loss dropped his record to 7-3 and raised his ERA a half a run, from 2.72 to 3.22.
"Arthur just got the ball up," manager Davey Johnson said. "Obviously, he didn't have his good stuff. First time in a while. But we gave them a finish."
Indeed, the Orioles did not go down quietly, scoring two runs in the top of the ninth on a double by Brady Anderson to keep the crowd of 32,207 from leaving early, but closer Troy Percival survived the rocky ninth to record his 19th save. He made the last out by catching a line drive by Geronimo Berroa and spiking the ball in triumph.
Both clubs showed why they are at or near the top of the standings, combining great pitching with clutch defense to carry the tense, 1-1 contest into the late innings. The Angels nearly took the lead in the bottom of the seventh when rookie catcher Todd Greene sent a drive whistling toward the construction site behind the left-field fence, but Jeffrey Hammonds made a leaping grab to keep it in the ballpark.
The Orioles had a chance to open the eighth with an extra-base hit when Cal Ripken hit a shot down the third base line, but third baseman Hollins made a diving play to smother the ball and cut him down at first base.
Kamieniecki pitched an outstanding game in his first start of August, giving up just a run on three hits over seven innings, but that would only be good enough to earn him a no-decision.
Finley pitched just as well and finally was rewarded for his effort with his 12th victory of the year. He gave up just a run on five hits over eight innings of work before giving way to Percival in the ninth.
Kamieniecki certainly looked fresh after getting nine days between starts. He struck out the side in the first inning and went on to strike out six of the first seven batters he faced.
Not that he is incapable of striking people out, but his early-inning performance was off the charts. He came into the game with about five strikeouts per nine innings and reached that total when he struck out Greene in the second.
"I thought I threw the ball pretty well," Kamieniecki said. "I was hitting spots and changing speeds. It's a lot easier to pitch when you're 0-1 and 0-2 on the count."
Johnson and pitching coach Ray Miller must have known something. They decided to take advantage of the two days off surrounding the two-game series in Seattle to rest Kamieniecki, even though he had given up just three hits in 6 2/3 innings in his July 30 start against the Texas Rangers.
Johnson explained that the club was just taking advantage of the break in the schedule to be extra conservative with a pitcher who was one year removed from elbow surgery.
"I want to go out and pitch, but I understood the circumstances," Kamieniecki said. "They don't want to push back [Jimmy] Key and [Mike] Mussina. I know my role. I used it to my advantage. I just rested. I don't think I'll get 10 days between starts the rest of the season."
Johnson does not want to get pushed back into the situation he was in a year ago at this time, when he went to a four-man rotation for several weeks. Though the move helped turn the season around, it taxed the bullpen and heightened the risk of losing one of the core starters to injury.
"It was scary at times last year," Johnson said.
Despite his best-laid plans, Johnson still got a scare last night, when Angels center fielder Orlando Palmeiro hit a line drive that struck Kamieniecki just above the right elbow in the fifth inning. That brought Johnson and trainer Richie Bancells out of the dugout, but Kamieniecki shook it off and remained in the game.
Opponent: Anaheim Angels
Site: Anaheim (Calif.) Stadium
Time: 8: 05
TV/Radio: None/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Jimmy Key (13-6, 2.57) vs. Angels' Ken Hill (6-9, 5.25)
Pub Date: 8/11/97