Managing short is always difficult. Managing on hope is always dangerous. Ray Miller lived an example yesterday.
With the Orioles' bullpen virtually charred beyond recognition, Miller and starting pitcher Scott Erickson paid for the sins of the past two weeks in an 11-inning, 8-7 tumble against the Minnesota Twins. First baseman Ron Coomer's one-out home run off Doug Johns provided the ending to a game that went wrong long before.
The 15-14 Orioles had their two-game micro-streak ended, suffering their 12th loss in 17 games. This one wasn't a blowout. It was simply blown. "Chances are pretty good that we probably would have won this game last year," Erickson said. "But last year's over with."
With one reliever on the disabled list, two of them rookies and another two declared off-limits because of fatigue, Miller conceded unfavorable matchups before turning an extra-inning game over to Johns, his last left-hander standing. Trailing 2-0 before getting his first out, Erickson had survived a three-run first inning and pitched with a 5-3 lead after four innings. He still held a two-run lead entering the seventh before stumbling again.
Then, another outbreak of Orioles bullpen madness allowed the Twins to turn a 6-4 deficit into a 7-6 lead. Designated hitter Harold Baines offered a reprieve with a one-out home run in the ninth. It only delayed the inevitable.
Refusing to use well-worn Arthur Rhodes and Alan Mills, Miller called upon Johns in a 7-7 game. The second hitter he faced, Coomer, made it 8-7.
"We got a little lead there in the middle innings and they battled back. We just couldn't quite get it done today," Erickson said. "Every time you lose a game it's frustrating, it doesn't matter what the score is. When you have a chance to win and you let it slip away, you're going to get irritated."
Home runs by Eric Davis and Mike Bordick helped bring the Orioles back against Twins starter Mike Morgan, who survived only 3 1/3 innings before turning the game over to a five-man tag team.
The Orioles wasted 14 hits, eight for extra bases. Closer Armando Benitez threw 39 pitches in 1 2/3 innings and is unavailable today. Davis produced eight total bases and three RBIs as the top third of the lineup went a combined 9-for-16 with four runs and four RBIs. No longer a team able to win in many ways, the Orioles are 2-13 when surrendering more than three runs.
The situation should improve today when staff ace Mike Mussina leaves the disabled list to make his first start since April 16. The schedule also allows Miller to toggle his rotation, perhaps starting Erickson on three days' rest Wednesday in Cleveland. By temporarily adopting a three-man rotation, Miller hopes his bullpen can regroup before a killer stretch of 19 games without a day off.
"I'm trying to get things back to normal as soon as possible," lamented Miller.
Besides Coomer, slumping Twins third baseman Brent Gates emerged as the offensive hero.
A switch-hitter, Gates entered the game in an 0-for-19 slump that had dropped his average to .051. He had two RBIs in his past 12 games and had managed only one hit in his past 36 at-bats.
"When you go that long, it just eats away at you," said Gates. "It's hard. It's tough to get out of."
Gates capped the Twins' three-run first by scoring Orlando Merced with a two-out single. The Twins raked Erickson for five hits the first two innings before he fell into a groove for the next three innings. Seeing Gates a third time ruined it.
With two outs in the sixth, Erickson missed inside on consecutive pitches to Gates. (Morgan had struck Roberto Alomar in the posterior after Bordick's home run two innings before.) The second pitch hit Gates, interrupting a stretch in which Erickson had retired 10 of 11 hitters.
Catcher Javier Valentin made Erickson pay by tripling to score Gates for a 5-4 game.
The Orioles regained a two-run lead in the sixth, but failed to put the game away. After reaching on his third hit, Alomar scored on Davis' one-out double for a 6-4 lead. With men on second and third and one out, Rafael Palmeiro struck out. Mike Trombley entered the game and walked Joe Carter intentionally to load the bases. As part of an 0-for-5 day in which he never left the infield, Cal Ripken grounded to third to end the threat.
Erickson began the inning having thrown 92 pitches. Nine more and he was gone.
Carter took a bad angle on Denny Hocking's leadoff fly ball, which fell at the base of the right-field wall for a triple. Singles by shortstop Todd Walker and right fielder Chris Latham put the tying run at second base and chased Erickson.
Appearing for the first time since being struck by a Frank Thomas line drive Wednesday, Norm Charlton induced a popped-up bunt for the first out. When Twins manager Tom Kelly followed with Coomer as a right-handed pinch hitter, Miller accepted the matchup. Coomer singled home the tying run.
Miller's right-handed options were limited. Terry Mathews went on the disabled list after the game. Alan Mills was pitched out. Rookie Nerio Rodriguez warmed but Miller reconsidered.
"When you play Texas and you play Anaheim and you play the Chicago White Sox, you need three healthy right-handers," Miller said. "Today I have to pay a price to hopefully get Arthur [Rhodes] and Mills back."
Right-handed rookie Sidney Ponson then struck out pinch hitter Alex Ochoa. Gates reappeared. Rather than risk a matchup of left-hander Jesse Orosco against a pinch hitter such as Paul Molitor or Terry Steinbach, Miller left the situation to the rookie Ponson. Gates smacked his second pitch for a go-ahead single.
"Right now I don't have the luxury of using one pitcher for one batter right now," Miller said.
The day wasn't through for Carter. He dropped Coomer's RTC eighth-inning fly ball for a two-base error. Miller lifted him for defense after the ninth inning.
"Those things are going to happen," said Miller. "We brought him in to be an offensive player. He's been doing a [heck] of a job. Joe gives you all he has and he's also been one of my hotter hitters. That's all I'm going to say about it."
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 1: 35 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Twins' Eric Milton (2-2, 4.67) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (2-2, 3.21)
Tickets: 4,200 remain
Pub Date: 5/03/98