For most of this season Davey Johnson has used his bullpen to protect his valuable starting rotation. Now who will save the 'pen?
Failing to clinch at least a wild-card berth, the Orioles lost last night's 8-2 decision to the New York Yankees before the game reached reliever Arthur Rhodes in the sixth inning. But the point was still obvious: No longer do their relievers represent a door slammed on the fingers of opposing hitters. Instead, the bullpen gate has come unhinged.
Taking their third game of the four-game series, the Yankees again punished the Orioles, who have lost 12 of 19. Dwight Gooden (8-4) and his seconds kept the game under control while Rhodes, Alan Mills and Jesse Orosco allowed a close game to become distorted.
Scott Kamieniecki (9-6) took the loss, his first since July 25. In the night's most discussed move, Johnson pulled a peeved Kamieniecki after only five innings and 77 pitches, further taxing a fatigued 'pen. The load doesn't get any lighter today as the Orioles play the first of consecutive day-night doubleheaders. By tomorrow night, the Orioles will have played parts of five games in 46 hours.
The Yankees ripped open the game with five runs in four innings after Kamieniecki left. For the series, which included Mike Mussina's three-hitter on Saturday, the Yankees crushed the bullpen for 16 earned runs in 14 1/3 innings that included 15 walks offset by only six strikeouts. They outscored the Orioles 36-15 to win the first of four series this season between the clubs, who battled into the American League Championship Series last season.
The problems go deeper than a series in which the Yankees outscored the Orioles 36-15. Over the past 13 games, the Orioles' bullpen, the envy of both leagues, has surrendered an 8.58 ERA. During that span it's been raked for 63 hits and allowed 29 walks in 46 1/3 innings while taking five losses.
For the Orioles, the good news came early. Deriving most of their offense from second baseman Roberto Alomar, who still can't sprint but has certainly shown an effective bat since returning from a groin injury, they took a brief lead before collapsing.
Alomar, 6-for-12 in four games last week, helped put the Orioles on top 1-0 in the first inning by singling. He took second on B. J. Surhoff's base hit then walked home when Gooden passed Rafael Palmeiro and Cal Ripken with two outs. Ripken's at-bat represented the Orioles' best rally of the night. After falling behind Gooden 0-2, Ripken worked the count full then checked his swing on a pitch several inches off the plate.
Kamieniecki held the 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 been able to extract 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 a 3-1 lead.
After clearing his 33-pitch first inning, Gooden settled. 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 following his one-out double in the fifth.
The Orioles got rid of Gooden in the sixth after he'd thrown 111 pitches. Palmeiro walked to lead off and designated hitter Harold Baines singled him to second with one out, drawing Brian Boehringer into the game. Despite his 5.15 ERA entering the game, it was the 11th time in 17 starts Gooden had left a game either tied or leading.
Meanwhile, the Yankees piled on for three more runs after Johnson brought a quick hook for Kamieniecki after the fifth inning. The move was surprising enough for Kamieniecki to voice his disapproval with Johnson. In each of his two previous starts, Kamieniecki had left with a lead but finished with no decision. This time, Johnson opted to pull him while trailing 3-1. Kamieniecki had asked out of last Monday's game in Cleveland after experiencing tightness in his right biceps.
Rhodes replaced Kamieniecki and lasted four hitters. He surrendered a quick run when O'Neill and Williams hit back-to-back doubles. Williams' double was a chop between Ripken and the third base bag and again drew attention to what has become Ripken's diminishing range.
Rhodes appeared to ease out of the jam when he picked Williams off second base, but a walk to Mike Stanley caused Johnson to replace him with Mills.
Mills continued his recent struggles against Chad Curtis, the first batter he faced. Curtis took Mills into the left-field seats for his 12th home run and only the fifth surrendered by Mills this season.
Down 6-1, the Orioles attempted to claw back in their half of the sixth but the rally fizzled when they were again reminded of Alomar's physical limitations.
The Orioles faced Gooden, Boehringer and Mike Stanton while sending seven hitters to the plate. Two walks sandwiched around a single by Baines loaded the bases with two outs. Stanton was imported to face Brady Anderson and immediately unleashed a wild pitch to score Palmeiro, cutting the lead to 6-2. He then hit Anderson, reloading the bases and bringing up Alomar.
Healthy, Alomar would have beat out a slow roller to third base. Hobbled by his sore right groin, he could only hustle down the line then try to beat Boggs' throw with a dive. His reward was a face-full of dirt and the inning's third out. With the game still in reach, the Orioles stranded nine in the first six innings.
Mills completed another harrowing performance in the seventh inning by allowing a leadoff single to Jeter and walking Boggs. Orosco followed and yielded an RBI single to Williams and a sacrifice fly to Martinez, bumping the lead to 8-2. The bullpen meltdown wasn't over until Johnson had brought Terry Mathews into the inning. In the first two innings after Kamieniecki's exit, the 'pen allowed five hits, three walks and five earned runs.
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
Pub Date: 9/15/97