MINNEAPOLIS -- The Orioles again exhibited signs of reclaiming a seamless starting rotation last night. Now if they can find some staples for the bullpen.
After entering the bottom of the sixth inning clutching a one-run lead, the 19-18 Orioles were undone once more by a pot-luck relief corps. Worse, the light-hitting Minnesota Twins jumped their two most dependable middle relievers, Arthur Rhodes and Alan Mills, for four runs to account for a 7-4 outcome before 8,666 at the Metrodome.
The bullpen's fifth loss bumped its collective ERA to 5.15 while erasing Scott Kamieniecki's successful return from the disabled list.
It also raised fresh doubts about a group that has yet to find an easy rhythm this season. Matt Lawton, the first hitter Rhodes faced, began a three-run dusting of the left-hander with a one-out home run in the sixth to tie the game. Alex Ochoa completed the damage vs. Rhodes with a game-winning, two-run homer in the seventh.
Kamieniecki returned to throw 76 pitches in 5 1/3 innings, decent efficiency from a pitcher not known for well-ordered innings. He surrendered a first-inning run -- the Twins' first score in 20 innings -- then never again pitched from behind. He left the game with a lead only to see the bullpen squander it in three pitches.
Kamieniecki hadn't appeared since getting only one out in an April 24 start against Oakland. The next day he was disabled due to a groin strain dating to spring training and an inflamed elbow that required a cortisone injection. Kamieniecki carried a 6.46 ERA onto the list and had admittedly felt "helpless" in his last two starts.
The Orioles had already recovered ace Mike Mussina and received two shutout performances. Kamieniecki's return made the rotation whole for the first time since April 17. Since Mussina's return May 3 the rotation has rebounded to compile a 2.79 ERA in 51 2/3 innings.
The Twins took a first-inning lead after two outs when Paul Molitor singled, moved to second on a walk to Ron Coomer and scored on Lawton's turf dribbler over second base.
Twins starter LaTroy Hawkins (2-3) quickly dropped the lead in the second as the Orioles responded
with two outs. Starting a four-hit night, Cal Ripken singled. B. J. Surhoff then blasted his fifth home run into the upper deck in right field for a 2-1 lead. Surhoff's homer was his second in three games and gives him seven RBIs in his last five games. He now owns the team lead with 29 RBIs.
The Orioles took a 3-1 lead in the third inning when Brady Anderson broke an 0-for-27 skid by doubling off the Metrodome's right-field trash bag. He took third on a groundout and scored when Twins shortstop Pat Meares booted Rafael Palmeiro's two-out grounder.
But like Hawkins, Kamieniecki found a lead slippery. Before he could get an out in the third, the Twins had forced a 3-3 tie on three consecutive hits and a Jeffrey Hammonds' error. Todd Walker led off with a double and scored when Ochoa followed with a single. Ochoa took second on a wild pitch that became huge when Molitor singled to right field. Ochoa paused at third then scored on Hammonds' boot. Kamieniecki performed damage control by getting the next three hitters.
The Orioles would hit safely in each of the first seven innings, including five for extra bases. Again, they did little with a lot. After stranding runners in scoring position in the fourth and fifth innings, Ripken played a central role in the Orioles regaining the lead.
A second double by the third baseman -- the 522nd of his career -- followed by Chris Hoiles' right-side grounder put him at third base with two outs. Shortstop Mike Bordick, hitting only .174 with runners in scoring position, bounced to second baseman Walker. Rather than set himself, Walker made an off-balance, off-target throw that allowed Bordick an infield hit and Ripken to score.
As he had predicted, Kamieniecki was yanked shortly after his 75th pitch. Slightly less predictable was the chaos that followed with Rhodes.
The left-hander threw 18 pitches -- 13 strikes, two not reachable.
Three pitches into his appearance, Rhodes surrendered a home run to Lawton. Rhodes escaped a first-and-third predicament to get out of the sixth.
Rhodes returned with nothing for the seventh. Walker singled and Ochoa jumped Rhodes for a home run that scraped the left-field fence for a 6-4 lead. Having watched a pair of right-handed bats turn the game against Rhodes, manager Ray Miller then summoned Mills.
The Twins' assault continued. Hardly looking like a team whose batting average had tumbled from .280 to .253 in its last 19 games, the Twins accepted two walks from Mills than bumped their lead to 7-4 on Marty Cordova's single.
Recent history suggested the night over. The Orioles entered 2-17 when allowing more than three runs in a game.
Opponent: Cleveland Indians
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 7: 05
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Indians' Chad Ogea (1-1, 4.50) vs. Orioles' Doug Drabek (2-4, 7.22)
Tickets: 5,200 remain
Pub Date: 5/13/98