The good feelings began for the Orioles yesterday with a visit from their wounded ace. They ended with another beating from a struggling expansion team.
Their nerves steadied, the Orioles still are working to calm a shaky season. They tied a club record last night for consecutive games with a home run, but fell to .500 again with a 4-1 loss to the last-place Tampa Bay Devil Rays before a sellout crowd of 47,421 at Camden Yards, the latest indignity to strike baseball's richest team.
Left-hander Wilson Alvarez blanked the Orioles (20-20) through five innings, as he had done in his previous start against them, before Eric Davis reached the seats in left leading off the sixth. It marked the 17th straight game the Orioles had gone deep. It wasn't enough to salvage the evening.
Growing more frustrated as the Orioles continue to run in place, manager Ray Miller is contemplating his first team meeting before tonight's game. A little get-together, he called it.
"I will adjust a few things. I'm just going to put things in perspective. I'm tired of everybody walking in here telling us how good we are," he said.
But Davis said, "We're not walking around here with our chests poked out."
One night after the Orioles celebrated the signing of pitcher Scott Erickson to a five-year contract extension, they watched in horror Thursday as Mike Mussina lay bleeding profusely from a gash above his right eye after a line drive by Cleveland's Sandy Alomar.
Mussina made a brief appearance at Camden Yards yesterday, and the news he may not return to the disabled list was expected to provide a rush of adrenalin. Instead of feeding on inspiration, the Orioles digested another loss, their second in a row and third in four games. The wheels keep spinning for a team going nowhere.
"All our hearts went out to Moose and it was on our minds, but we just didn't get it done," Davis said. "Nobody in here is flat. Guys are pulling for each other and playing hard. We're just not getting it done."
"If anything," Miller said, "you would think [Mussina's injury] would motivate you to want to come out and play harder. I didn't see anyone not play hard, but I was a little disappointed with a few swings, especially with the game on the line. You want to see guys turn it up a little bit, at least take one shot and try to hit the ball hard somewhere."
Given little margin for error, Jimmy Key lost for the first time since April 19 in Texas, falling behind 2-0 in the second inning and never finding a lead. He was removed with one out in the eighth after 97 pitches.
Norm Charlton got Wade Boggs and Fred McGriff to strand rookie Dwight Winn at second, leaving a glimmer of hope for a comeback. It faded after the Orioles stranded two runners in the bottom half of the inning and Mike Kelly homered off Charlton leading off the ninth.
A two-out triple by shortstop Kevin Stocker in the second inning, scoring former Oriole Aaron Ledesma, and a single by Miguel Cairo were the most serious blows off Key (4-2). He dodged more trouble in the fourth after Ledesma doubled to left with one out, but was bitten again in the fifth.
Winn tripled over the head of center fielder Brady Anderson and scored on a fly ball by Quinton McCracken, who had beaten the Orioles Sunday with an eighth-inning homer. The three runs equaled the most Key had given up in a game since being ripped for eight in 3 2/3 innings vs. the Rangers.
"Jimmy Key pitched good enough to win and we didn't score," Miller said.
The Orioles were taking their second look this week at Alvarez (4-4). He didn't get the decision in Sunday's 4-3 victory, leaving him winless against the Orioles in his past six starts.
The seventh time was the charm. It also provided his first victory since April 18.
"A guy shouldn't come in this house and throw that many fastballs and do that well," Miller said. "He shouldn't be that successful against this club, but he was and I give him credit."
Said Alvarez: "These guys can hit. You have to mix it up against them or you're in trouble. I used my changeup a lot and my fastball. It was all working."
The Orioles didn't get a runner to second base until the fifth inning, when B. J. Surhoff and Chris Hoiles singled with one out. But Mike Bordick and Anderson popped out, and the night's biggest threat to that point rang hollow.
Bordick, who limped to first after being struck in the left knee by an Alvarez pitch in the third inning, had hit in eight straight games before last night, and 10 of his last 11. He went 0-for-2, flying to deep center in the seventh.
Alvarez was driven from the game the next inning after an error by Ledesma and a walk to Davis. Ledesma drifted behind the mound tracking a pop-up by Anderson, reached back and whiffed. Alvarez fell behind 3-0 to Davis before losing him, and Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild summoned right-hander Jim Mecir.
Turned to the left side, Roberto Alomar spun away from a called third strike. Pinch hitter Harold Baines bounced into a force and Rafael Palmeiro grounded the next pitch to Stocker.
"We had the right people in the right spots and the right time and we didn't score," Miller said. "You talk about momentum in baseball. Good pitching shuts it down. We've just all got to reach back and step up another level higher."
"We're playing well," Key said. "Things just aren't happening."
Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 7: 05
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Rays' Rolando Arrojo (5-2, 3.15) vs. O's Scott Erickson (4-3, 5.46)
% Tickets: 1,600 remain
Jimmy Key fell to 4-2 last night, but with a little more support, he could be 8-1. A look at his four starts that could have been wins:
D, Opp, IP, H, ER, Key (O's)
4/2, KC, 5, 5, 1, ND (W 4-3)
Cle, 6 1/3 , 5, 3, ND (L 6-5)
TB, 6, 4, 1, ND (L 4-3)
TB, 7 1/3 , 8, 3, L (L 4-1)
Pub Date: 5/16/98