O's offense shows cracks at worst time


MIAMI -- It's a good thing for the Orioles that the New York Yankees also keep losing. Suddenly, the best team in baseball looks as vulnerable as it has all season.

If you want to know why third base coach Sam Perlozzo got two runners thrown out at home plate last night, just consider the rest of the Orioles' offense in their 3-2 loss to Florida in 10 innings.

There was Chris Hoiles hitting into an inning-ending double play on a 3-0 count. There was Jeff Reboulet twice failing to get down a bunt. And there was Jeffrey Hammonds getting picked off second in the same miserable sequence.

The only runs of the night came on a long fly ball off the right-field wall by Rafael Palmeiro. First base umpire Bruce Froemming mistakenly ruled it a two-run homer. Otherwise, the Orioles would have been shut out.

They have averaged 3.71 runs in their past 14 games, and they're lucky that their record in that time is 8-6. They could have stolen one last night. They could have pushed their lead over the struggling Yankees to 7 1/2 games.

Instead, they suffered another disheartening defeat.

They failed to score with first-and-second and none out in the eighth, bases loaded with one out in the 10th. Their only runs came on a homer -- and a disputed one at that.

Yes, their chances of winning the division look as good as

ever, with the Yankees losing back-to-back games to last-place Philadelphia, and postponing David Cone's return until after this weekend.

The question now is October.

Will the Orioles have enough offense?

Or will their injuries prove their downfall?

No one knows when Roberto Alomar will return from his groin injury. No one knows when Eric Davis will play, or how much of an impact he will make when he does.

Brady Anderson is so banged-up, manager Davey Johnson said he could use an entire series off. Reboulet, Hammonds, Chris Hoiles, B.J. Surhoff -- they're all playing with nagging injuries.

So, when Mike Bordick bounced a single into right field with Hoiles at second and one out in the second inning last night, Perlozzo felt compelled to send the slow-footed catcher home.

Marlins right fielder Gary Sheffield threw Hoiles out by 10 feet, and the Orioles' lead stayed at 2-0. Perlozzo's move looked even worse when Mike Mussina grounded out to end the inning. Hoiles might have scored on the chopper.

Perlozzo was at it again in the seventh, sending Cal Ripken from second on a single to left by Bordick. With two outs, this decision was less questionable. Ripken was out at the plate, but on a play close enough for Davey Johnson to argue.

And so it goes for a team that is last in the league in doubles and next-to-last in stolen bases. The Orioles no longer are manufacturing runs. Last night, they were failed even by their players most suited to play "little ball."

They had it all set up in the eighth after Harold Baines delivered his second pinch-hit single in two nights and Brady Anderson walked. First, Johnson ran pitcher Shawn Boskie for Baines. Then, he inserted Hammonds.

It was an ideal bunting situation with the 3-4 hitters following Reboulet, but the usually reliable utility man failed to execute. And on the second strike, Hammonds committed an unpardonable sin, getting caught too far off second.

Marlins catcher Charles Johnson threw him out at second, and B.J. Surhoff flied out to end the inning. The Orioles threatened again in the 10th, but pinch-hitter Jerome Walton hit into a force at home, and Surhoff struck out.

It was a bizarre end to a night that began with such luck, such promise. On Saturday, the Yankees got theirs for Jeffrey Maier. Last night, the Orioles got even for Richie Garcia.

First base umpire Froemming blew the call on Palmeiro's first-inning fly off the wall so badly, it made Garcia's gaffe in Game 3 of the 1996 American League Championship Series look downright forgivable.

Last time we looked, those hellbent-for-change owners had yet to rewrite the rule that states a ball must go over the wall to be a home run.

Videotape replays clearly showed that the ball struck at least 3 feet from the top of the 8-foot wall at Pro Player Stadium. Shaquille O'Neal couldn't have leaned over and caught it, much less Little Jeffrey Maier.

Oh, sweet irony. Froemming was one of the umpires who led the outcry against Alomar last October.

"He should have been put down for 60 days, maybe 30 days, maybe a whole year," Froemming said then. "This is abnormal conduct, and it's been dealt with like a guy was smoking a cigarette in the dugout."

Well, now we know that the umpiring in the NL is on a par with the AL. Froemming, showing Garcia-type hustle, barely moved down the right-field line.

A break like that normally is a great omen.

But not the way the Orioles are playing now.

Pub Date: 9/03/97

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