The Orioles suffered their worst beating of the season last night, so it was a strange setting to declare a success.
Yet manager Davey Johnson saw enough positives from starting pitcher Jimmy Key to declare a 14-2 pounding little more than window dressing, no matter how badly his team was undressed before a Camden Yards crowd of 47,066, most of whom had left after the Yankees' endless nine-run sixth inning.
Key lasted 5 1/3 innings, allowing six hits and eight runs, six of them earned. He called it a success, which gives an indication of where he has been.
"For me, it was a positive step getting back to where I was throwing early on in the season. They beat me tonight. They beat us tonight. We'll get 'em tomorrow. But I'm going to go into my next start feeling good about it," said Key.
Johnson sounded almost ecstatic about what he saw. He overlooked raw numbers and focused instead on the action on Key's pitches.
"The numbers aren't a reflection of the way he pitched. We had bad [defense] and every little thing that could have gone wrong did. You hate to lose and get blown out at home, but it happens," Johnson said.
Johnson reinforced his strikingly upbeat assessment by mentioning positive side sessions from Scott Kamieniecki and Mike Mussina. Kamieniecki left Monday's start with tightness in his right biceps. Mussina cleared only three innings last Sunday because of a sliced right index finger. Both are scheduled to XTC start this weekend.
"It was a great day for a lot of things," Johnson added.
Key had thrown twice on the side since his last start to slightly alter his delivery. Rather than drop his hands to initiate his windup, Key raised them. The hope was for him to reclaim the arm position that took him to an 11-1 start. Instead of stumbling in early innings as had become his habit, Key struck out three in the first two innings without allowing a base runner.
"I haven't thrown this good in a month," Key insisted. "I had stuff tonight that I hadn't seen in a long time. Obviously you can't see it by the line score. But baseball's a game where you can't always look at a line score to see how someone threw. Believe it or not, I feel good about coming out of this game. We lost. I feel bad about that. But personally, I feel good about how I threw. I just hope I can hang onto this for the next six or eight starts or
however many I've got the rest of this season."
Camden Yards has been a two-faced beauty for Key. He won his first five home starts this season, compiling a 1.28 ERA. But in nine starts since May 7, Key is 0-7 with a 5.60 ERA.
Key is growing tired of references to his troubles at home. Indeed, last night's defense was among the season's worst.
"If you look back at the games I've pitched, I really haven't pitched any differently at home than I have on the road, but things have been a little bit better for me on the road. So there's a discussion on why I can't win at home," he said, smudging a 5-7 home record compared to 10-2 on the road. "Tonight was a perfect example. It just didn't happen. You can't control where the ball's hit sometimes. Tonight just wasn't the night."
The 14 runs tied for the most allowed by the Orioles this season. The nine-run sixth was their worst since allowing 16 to the Texas Rangers on April 29, 1996.
Suddenly the Yankees don't resemble well-trained pets anymore. They have outscored the Orioles 24-5 the last two games after seven straight defeats.
"It was a wake-up call that they're not going to lay down for us. They're not going to let us walk all over them," said right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds.
The most painful lowlight came during an endless sixth inning when 13 Yankees went through three pitchers for nine runs, six hits and four walks. It was the most runs scored in an inning by the Yankees since last Sept. 26, the day they clinched the American League East.
Yankees starter Andy Pettitte (17-7) hardly needed the cushion. He hasn't lost since Aug. 6, winning four of seven starts. Six days after being decked by a Cal Ripken line drive in New York, he retired 17 consecutive hitters after Brady Anderson and Aaron Ledesma reached to begin the game.
The third inning grabbed Key hard. His crime was allowing a leadoff single to Chad Curtis followed by a one-out flare by Rey Sanchez over third base. With runners at first and third and one out, Derek Jeter grounded sharply to Ripken's backhand. Ripken crouched for the ball, but was too late. Charged with his 20th error, Ripken's misplay allowed Curtis to score and Sanchez to take third. Wade Boggs' high chop to first scored Sanchez with the inning's second unearned run and a 2-0 lead.
Key took another hit in the fifth when Curtis led off with a single, stole second base without a throw and was sacrificed to third by Jorge Posada. Curtis scored on a foul ball that Hammonds snared with a sliding catch.
Key appeared to labor through the fifth. At one point, Johnson and trainer Richie Bancells went to the mound to check whether Key had injured his left hamstring. He remained in the game but struggled more in the sixth.
Boggs doubled to lead off. Bernie Williams walked with one out, setting up Tino Martinez to single home Boggs with a dribbler to right. An intentional walk loaded the bases and Curtis chased Key with his third hit, a single that scored Williams for a 5-0 lead.
Key left and the inning completely collapsed beneath Brian Williams, who came on to surrender a sacrifice fly, two hits and a walk that left the Yankees with a 9-0 lead.
The pounding wasn't over. Terry Mathews relieved Williams and immediately gave up Paul O'Neill's 20th home run to jack the lead to 12-0.
The Orioles avoided a shutout in the sixth inning when Ledesma singled, took third on a double error by second baseman Sanchez and scored on Geronimo Berroa's single. The rest was details of a lost night that left the Orioles pondering the state of their prized rotation.
Pub Date: 9/12/97
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 7: 35
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Yankees' Ramiro Mendoza (5-6, 4.71) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (16-5, 3.30)
O's magic number: 12 (any combination of Orioles wins and Yankees losses to clinch AL East title)
' AL East standings
............ W ... L ... Pct. .. GB
Orioles ... 89 .. 54 .. .622 ... --
Yankees ... 82 .. 62 .. .569 ... 7 1/2