Perhaps something odd should have been expected from a split doubleheader that began shortly after lunch and ended nine hours later. The Orioles might have anticipated a split with the Seattle Mariners, but not like this.
For the third time this season, the Orioles won a start by the game's leading intimidator, Randy Johnson, this time by erasing an early 1-0 deficit on home runs by Jeff Reboulet and Jeffrey Hammonds for a 4-3 win. Then they looked on as Jimmy Key (13-7) struggled in an 8-3 loss against Dundalk native Ken Cloude, who became the second pitcher in three days to gain his first major-league win at the Orioles' expense.
The loss, and New York's win over Texas, dropped the Orioles' AL East lead to 3 1/2 games, their smallest in three weeks.
It could have been worse, if not for a command performance from No. 4 starter Scott Kamieniecki in the opener. He went seven innings to out-duel Johnson.
The Orioles squeezed a split from eight hits in two games. Meanwhile, the Mariners pounded three home runs in the second game after out-hitting the Orioles 8-4 in the opener.
"It's tough to win two, especially against a team like they have," said catcher Chris Hoiles, whose second-inning double earned the Orioles a brief 2-2 tie in the second game against Cloude. "If we had played them last night it might have been different. But today, you come in here after facing [Johnson] and sit around for a couple hours. That makes it tough."
Key was 11-1 after his first 13 starts but in two months since has gone 2-6, admittedly with painfully little run support. Considered a Camden Yards terror when he signed last winter, he is 0-5 with a 5.09 ERA in six home starts since May 7. Last night was only the fourth time this season he hasn't pitched into the sixth inning but the second time against Seattle.
"I'm not locating as well as I was early in the year," he said. "I have three or four good hitters, then all of a sudden I'll throw three or four pitches that come from nowhere."
Key lives on the edge of the plate. Small lapses in control can lead to big damage as Ken Griffey and Jay Buhner proved with home runs that gave Seattle a big early lead. He surrendered only five home runs in his first 14 starts; he has surrendered six in his past three.
"You can't get the ball in the air here when it's hot. Everybody knows that. You see it night in and night out," Key said.
Some losses are more painful than others. Shawn Boskie left after the sixth inning complaining of stiffness in his right elbow. A preliminary exam indicated nothing serious, although manager Davey Johnson voiced concern afterward. The Orioles likely will promote a pitcher from Triple-A Rochester to start in Tuesday's doubleheader against Kansas City.
Though Key threw only 89 pitches, last night's performance did little to promote him returning on three days' rest Tuesday.
"I've been pitching well. You don't always get wins when you pitch well and you don't always get losses when you pitch poorly. Tonight was probably my worst start of the year," said Key.
Making his second major-league start, Cloude allowed two runs on two hits in six innings, walking two with six strikeouts.
"I thought we'd jump all over this kid. But he pitched good. He pitched better than Jimmy," said Johnson.
As for Randy Johnson (16-4), he might be Superman to the rest of the league but he couldn't out-duel Kamieniecki and a one-of-a-kind lineup at a half-filled Camden Yards. In his three starts this season against the Orioles, he is 0-2 with a 5.68 ERA. His career record against them fell to 3-7.
The Mariners are 18-7 in Johnson's starts this season, but 0-3 against the Orioles. He entered yesterday with a 1.67 ERA in his past 15 starts and had struck out 19 in his previous outing, a 5-0 win over the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 8. But even with a odd-looking lineup featuring Aaron Ledesma at first base and Hoiles as DH, the Orioles are still the Orioles. No B. J. Surhoff. No Rafael Palmeiro. No Roberto Alomar.
So, Unit, what's the deal?
"Go ask them. They score more runs than we do. I don't have an explanation why I'm 12-2 against Chicago. It's just one of those kind of things," he said.
"The key is our pitching holding us close," said Davey Johnson. "If we're down three or four runs it's awful tough to come back against him."
The Orioles experienced just such difficulty in the second game as Cloude received two first-inning runs on Griffey's 38th home run. Seattle broke out to a 6-2 lead on Buhner's three-run shot off Key in the fifth. The loss marked an end to the Orioles' string of 21 consecutive games in which they had allowed five runs or fewer.
While beating Johnson might have created sweep expectations, Cloude's performance and the day's fatigue suggested otherwise.
Key lasted only 4 1/3 innings, allowing nine hits and six runs. In his past three starts, he has pitched a total of 16 innings, allowing 12 runs, and has won only once since the All-Star break.
The Mariners finished their scoring on Alex Rodriguez' two-run homer in the eighth inning against Terry Mathews.
In the opener, Kamieniecki (8-5) fell behind 1-0 in the first inning, but benefited from Reboulet's bases-empty homer in the fourth and Hammonds' two-run shot in the fifth.
Cal Ripken gave the Orioles a critical three-run cushion in the eighth on a sacrifice fly, enabling Randy Myers to survive a two-run rally in the ninth inning for his 35th save in 36 opportunities.
"This is a big win. If they had come back and beaten us after we got a three-run lead on Randy Johnson, it would have been a devastating loss," said first base coach John Stearns.
Instead, it only furthered the Orioles' confidence against a team they could well see in the first round of the playoffs. The win enabled them to finish the regular season 7-4 against the Mariners. Kamieniecki quietly raised his career average against them to 6-2, beating a snakebitten Johnson.
On May 8, the Mariners' lefty was interrupted by a controversial rain delay here and eventually suffered his first loss since last August and as a result was denied a share of the league record for consecutive wins. Thursday night he was prepared to pitch when the lights went out and a two-hour tap dance ensued over whether or not to play. When the game was called, he left without comment.
The Orioles admittedly had taken Johnson into consideration when they suggested Thursday's game be called. "I'd rather not get him, period. But the tougher the guy is, I'd much rather see him in the daytime," Johnson said.
Randy Johnson finished with a complete game and 13 strikeouts, allowing him to tie the major-league record for strikeouts in consecutive games (32).
However, the Orioles' success against Johnson has as much to do with extraordinary starting pitching as it does intestinal fortitude at the plate. The rotation's invisible glue, Kamieniecki gave another solid performance.
The Mariners pushed runners into scoring position in four of the first five innings, but got only frustration in return.
"They put me in the rotation at the beginning of the year when I don't think they were counting on me. I've stayed there because I've been consistent," said Kamieniecki, who has now allowed only three runs in his past three starts.
The Orioles took the lead in the fifth when Hammonds ripped Johnson's first-pitch fastball to left-center field for his 17th home run. The blast was only Hammonds' second hit of August due to a recent 0-for-12 slump and a nagging Achilles' tendon injury. Hammonds was 1-for-11 lifetime against Johnson before the at-bat.
Opponent: Anaheim Angels
Site: Camden Yards
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Angels' Ken Hill (6-9, 5.09) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (14-5, 3.33)
Tickets: Only scattered singles and bleacher seats remain
Pub Date: 8/16/97