CLEVELAND -- With a sliver of their schedule remaining, the Orioles still have riddles to answer: How to solve an almost 39-year-old Orel Hershiser and what to do about their madcap right fielder, Geronimo Berroa.
The unanswered questions left them with a frustrating 2-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians last night at sold-out Jacobs Field. Compounding their uneasiness was the removal of starting pitcher Scott Kamieniecki after six innings with cramping in his right biceps. His pain was compounded by what happened behind him in the sixth inning.
In what manager Davey Johnson considered one of his best starts of the season, Kamieniecki watched a 1-0 lead fly over Berroa's outstretched glove. The Indians tied the game in the inning, then broke on top in the seventh against Alan Mills (2-2), who was burned by Omar Vizquel's two-out single.
With Johnson's outfield riddled by injuries, Berroa represents a healthy alternative. However, his glove has never been recognized as an asset.
"Chief is doing a great job for us," said Johnson. "He's been pretty good defensively, too. I'm sure there are going to be times when he's going to be sitting in a close ballgame, but I've got confidence in him. We don't have a whole lot of options right now. It's not easy being out there with a packed house and a guy hits a bullet and you really don't read how hard it's hit. He's done a decent job out there."
Decent didn't describe this effort. Berroa initially broke in on Manny Ramirez's fly ball, froze, then leaped helplessly as the would-be third out turned into a double. Berroa was left to catch his hat and stare blankly toward the infield as center fielder Brady Anderson backed up the play.
"I didn't know it was a problem until it got over his head," said Anderson, who sprinted toward Berroa at the crack of the bat.
Said Kamieniecki: "When he hit it, I thought it was a gapper, then it began coming back to [Berroa]. I said, 'Aw, he's got it.' He said he lost it in the lights.' What are you going to do?"
Berroa had enjoyed a creditable day in the field during Sunday's 10-3 loss to New York. Citing the performance, he said, "I caught those 11 balls yesterday. That's why this is a crazy game."
Crazier still is that Berroa actually caught eight fly balls. The other three were retrievals of base hits.
Berroa's misstep was made worse when Kamieniecki fell behind 3-0 to the next batter, Jim Thome. The Indians' first baseman then ripped a high fastball off the left-field wall, scoring Ramirez with the tying run.
The Orioles acquired Berroa as a designated hitter but necessity has forced him into a fielder's role. Last night was Berroa's 31st start in right field. Only Jeffrey Hammonds (38) and Tony Tarasco (35) have more. Berroa is a large enough defensive liability that Johnson may have to rethink his role during the postseason. With an offense that grinds to score, outfield giveaways are too expensive.
Kamieniecki left the game after feeling tightness in his right biceps. He had experienced the tightness warming before the game and during the early innings. However, it eased for several innings before returning in the fifth.
Concerned about jeopardizing himself and the team's chances, Kamieniecki approached pitching coach Ray Miller and was pulled after 90 pitches.
The Orioles took a 1-0 lead in familiar fashion when designated hitter Harold Baines smashed a two-out homer in the second. It marked the 16th consecutive game in which the Orioles have homered.
The mistake was a rarity for Hershiser, who entered 6-0 in his 10 starts since July 2. Hershiser allowed only four hits in 6 2/3 innings, the second longest outing of his unblemished run.
The Orioles manufactured a third-inning threat but couldn't follow through after Mike Bordick singled and Anderson walked to begin the inning. In his second at-bat since Aug. 26, Roberto Alomar struck out. B. J. Surhoff did the same, waving at an outside strike. Berroa began a forgettable performance by grounding out.
Johnson thought the offense was more culpable than Berroa's defense. "You could blame it more on an at-bat, whether it's by B. J. or by Robbie not at least making contact. We just didn't do the things we normally do offensively," he said. "That's what cost us that ballgame. It happened four, five, six times."
Hershiser, a second-half dynamo, didn't receive the victory but confounded the Orioles long enough for his followers to win a battle of bullpens.
Behind Kamieniecki, the Orioles received another reminder that their bullpen is in a fragile state. Alan Mills relieved but only got two outs before leaving down 2-1.
With one out in the seventh, Pat Borders doubled over Berroa, who this time could only watch the drive smack midway up the right-field wall. After a strikeout, Mills served a mistake pitch to Vizquel, who singled, again to Berroa, as Borders easily beat the throw.
Mills has allowed runs in only four of 22 appearances since the All-Star break; however, he has been reached in four of his last seven outings and was pulled because of a groin strain in Florida last week.
The Orioles rid themselves of Hershiser with two outs in the seventh, but were held to two hits by relievers Paul Assenmacher, Mike Jackson, Alvin Morman and Jose Mesa. Assenmacher struck out two of the three hitters he faced and Morman closed the eighth after Berroa singled with two outs.
Assenmacher (5-0), riding a streak of 30 scoreless innings, earned the win. Jose Mesa pitched the ninth for his 13th save.
Power of the 'pen
Randy Myers continues to lead the major leagues in the Rolaids Relief Man standings, and the Orioles rank first among all teams through Sunday's games (B denotes blown saves):
Reliever ............ W-L ... Sv ... B ... Pts
Randy Myers, O's .... 2-3 ... 41 ... 1 ... 119
M. Rivera, N.Y.Y. ... 4-4 ... 40 ... 8 ... 104
Robb Nen, Fla. ...... 9-2 ... 32 ... 6 .... 98
Rod Beck, S.F. ...... 4-3 ... 35 ... 6 .... 95
J. Franco, N.Y.M. ... 4-3 ... 35 ... 6 .... 95
Team ................ W-L ... Sv ... B ... Pts
Orioles ............ 29-21 .. 54 ... 8 ... 162
Chicago (AL) ....... 20-14 .. 44 .. 16 ... 112
Los Angeles ........ 22-19 .. 42 .. 16 ... 100
Florida ............ 26-15 .. 35 .. 15 .... 97
Milwaukee .......... 18-18 .. 39 .. 11 .... 95
Key: 3 points for saves; 2 points for relief wins; minus-2 points for relief losses and blown saves.
Opponent: Cleveland Indians
Site: Jacobs Field, Cleveland
Time: 7: 05
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Rick Krivda (3-0, 6.75) vs. Indians' Chad Ogea (6-8, 5.57)
AL East standings
............ W ... L ... Pct. ... GB
Orioles ... 88 .. 53 .. .624 .... --
Yankees ... 80 .. 61 .. .567 ..... 8
Pub Date: 9/09/97