For most of this season Orioles manager Davey Johnson has used his bullpen to protect his valuable starting rotation. Now who will save the 'pen?
The New York Yankees forced the issue last night in a nationally televised 8-2 win over the Orioles before 47,264 at Camden Yards, denying the Orioles a clinch of at least a wild-card berth. The Yankees grabbed three of the series' four games by outscoring the Orioles 36-15. Of more concern, the Yankees again went wild once into the Orioles' bullpen.
Over the last 13 games the game's deepest bullpen is 0-5 with a blown save and an 8.55 ERA. In that span -- covering 46 1/3 innings -- relievers have surrendered 63 hits and 30 walks against 27 strikeouts, a disconcerting ratio suggesting fatigue, bad matchups, inexperience or a combination of the three.
During the four-game series against the Yankees, the 'pen was savaged for 16 earned runs in 14 1/3 innings -- a 10.05 ERA -- that included 15 walks offset by only six strikeouts.
Now the tough part.
Last night's game was only the opener in a grind that forces the Orioles to play five games in 46 hours.
Because of the impossible schedule, starter Scott Kamieniecki had geared himself to go at least seven innings. He had used only 77 pitches through five innings and assumed he would return for a sixth when Johnson told him he was done.
"It's a two-run game in the sixth inning," Kamieniecki said after taking his first loss since July 25. "We're only down 3-1 and I'm pitching good. Then I'm out of the game. I'm surprised."
Johnson explained that he was only protecting his pitcher after Kamieniecki asked out of last Monday's game in Cleveland after experiencing tightness in his right biceps.
Quickly, Arthur Rhodes and Alan Mills were torched for a three-run sixth inning capped by left fielder Chad Curtis' two-run homer.
Mills returned for the seventh inning, allowed two base runners, then looked on as Jesse Orosco came on to allow both inherited runners to score.
"Early in the season, everybody would have a down period, but then it was one of us at a time. Everybody else hid our faults," said Terry Mathews, who gave Johnson 1 1/3 scoreless innings last night, only his fourth scoreless outing among his last 13. "It's TTC a weird coincidence where this many of us are going through a bad spell at the same time.
"But you'd rather it happen now than three or four weeks from now [in the postseason]. It's not time to worry yet. Everybody still has time to find their groove."
Johnson maintains his bullpen is healthy and well-rested. However, long man Shawn Boskie is dealing with elbow pain and Mills has surrendered runs in five of his past eight outings after 15 consecutive scoreless appearances.
Rhodes' performance last night was hardly reassuring for a pitcher given significant down time recently to heal a tender right side.
"Everyone's a little bit off. When you have a rough game but somebody comes behind you to pick you up, you don't dwell on it," Mathews said. "Now the guy coming in behind you isn't doing the job. So he's dwelling on it, you're dwelling on it and it starts to snowball."
An avalanche may be on the way. The Orioles are relying on Esteban Yan and Nerio Rodriguez to pitch the day games of the two doubleheaders. Neither has suggested he can go more than five innings.
"Right now I'm paranoid. And I know I'll be paranoid the next two days," pitching coach Ray Miller said. "I know we agreed to this schedule and there are gates involved, but what if we were one game up instead of where we are? What if we were in a situation like San Francisco and Los Angeles with five games in 48 hours?"
Johnson added: "Once we get past the next couple days nobody's really overworked. I don't think anybody's overworked or laboring. If you get a well-pitched game, things get easy. If you don't, I haven't been abusing Orosco, Rhodes, [Armando] Benitez. The other long guys are going to get banged up a little bit, but that's going to happen if you don't get six or seven innings from the starters."
Closer Randy Myers discounted suggestions the bullpen is fatigued. Then again, Myers has received only one save opportunity since Aug. 23, a relative drought for a relief pitcher with 41 saves, and recently appeared in a non-save situation Sept. 4 just to find work.
"I don't think it's a big deal. It's September. You've got guys pitching out of sequence. How many leads have we had lately? Not a great deal. You have to look at the situations guys are coming into," he said.
"When the situation arises, you'll have Jesse, Armando and me ready. But what do I have, one save in 15 days?"
Pitching with a two-run lead in the eighth inning is different than pitching when behind five runs in the sixth. Recent problems within the rotation has placed the 'pen in the unfamiliar situation.
Taking their third game of the four-game series, the Yankees pushed the Orioles to their 12th loss in 19 games. Dwight Gooden (8-4) and his seconds kept the game under control while Rhodes, Mills and Orosco allowed a close game to become distorted.
For the Orioles, the good news came early. Second baseman Roberto Alomar had three hits, including a fifth-inning double, to leave him 9-for-16 in his past five games. Alomar scored a first-inning run on a bases-loaded walk to Cal Ripken.
Kamieniecki held the 1-0 lead for three innings as he faced the minimum nine hitters. He fell in the fourth.
With one out, the Yankees began a run of four consecutive hits when Wade Boggs lined a double to right-center field. He advanced to third when Paul O'Neill scorched a single so hard Boggs couldn't consider trying to score. No matter. Bernie Williams produced a third consecutive hit when he served a single into left field, scoring Boggs for a 1-1 game.
Typically, Kamieniecki has extracted himself from early trouble before allowing multiple runs. Not this time.
Kamieniecki's 26-pitch inning fell apart when Tino Martinez rifled the inning's second double to right-center field. O'Neill and Williams scored to give the Yankees their 3-1 lead.
After clearing his 33-pitch first inning that included two walks and three full counts, Gooden settled down.
The Orioles stranded Lenny Webster at third base in the second, killed a potential rally with an inning-ending double play in the fourth and did nothing with Alomar after his one-out double in the fifth.
Should the Yankees and Orioles meet again in the American League Championship Series, New York won't be lacking any confidence despite losing the season series for the first time since 1989.
"They got us when we weren't hot and we weren't playing well," said right fielder Paul O'Neill, who finished a strong series with a 2-for-4 night. "We know we can play with them and they know they can beat us."
Opponent: Cleveland Indians
Site: Camden Yards
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM) Tickets: 5,800 left for Game 1; 500 for Game 2
Time: 1: 35
Starters: Indians' Brian Anderson (3-1, 4.18) vs. O's Esteban Yan
Time: 7: 35
Starters: Indians' Chad Ogea (6-9, 5.73) vs. Orioles' Rick Krivda (4-0, 6.03)
O's magic number: 10 (any combination of Orioles wins and Yankees losses to clinch AL East title)
AL East standings
.. .. .. .. W .. L .. Pct. .. GB
Orioles .. 90 . 56 . .616 ... --
Yankees .. 84 . 63 . .571 ... 6 1/2
The Orioles' bullpen, a strong point as they dominated the first seven games against New York, was pounded by the Yankees in this series, racking up a 10.05 ERA. A look:
Reliever .. IP .. H .. ER .. BB
Boskie . .. 1 1/3 .. 4 ... 5 ... 3
Williams ... 4 .. 4 ... 3 ... 5
Mills .. ... 1/3 .. 2 ... 3 ... 2
Rodriguez .. 3 .. 2 ... 2 ... 2
Rhodes . .. 3 1/3 .. 4 ... 2 ... 2
Mathews ... 1 2/3 .. 1 ... 1 ... 1
Orosco . ... 2/3 .. 1 ... 0 ... 0
Totals . . 14 1/3 ..18 .. 16 .. 15
Pub Date: 9/15/97