OAKLAND, Calif. -- A team allows a six-run inning. Its starting pitcher makes it through only 3 1/3 innings before being chased by a grand slam. Throwing strikes becomes a chancy endeavor.
No, this time the Orioles weren't guilty.
Instead, they used an explosive offensive showing by right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds and a four-hitter by Doug Drabek to halt a nine-game losing streak -- the club's longest since 1988 -- with a 9-1 drubbing last night of the Oakland A's. Hammonds, campaigning for more regular time, provided a grand slam and scored three runs. Drabek (4-5) continued to be as effective in May as he was lost in April.
Winning for the first time since May 13, the Orioles bumped their last-place record to 21-27 and halted a no-pitch trend that had them allow nine runs in three of their four previous losses. Rafael Palmeiro contributed two doubles within an 11-hit attack that included five doubles and Hammonds' third-inning slam. For once they squeezed the most from opportunities rather than squander them.
"It's a relief," said Hammonds. "We had a lead tonight and we were able to do some things. We've led 5-1 and 4-2 here lately but things have happened. Tonight we got up and Dougie pitched really well."
Drabek, responsible for wasting several comfortable leads, survived for his first complete game since Aug. 8, 1996. Only former Oriole Jack Voigt's two-out double in the eighth kept him from his first shutout since July 25, 1995.
"I guess he heard me yelling last night," said manager Ray Miller, who contrasted his post-game tirade from Friday with a softer reaction last night. "I don't think I'll be too excited until we win about 20 more in a row. Then we'll be about where we should be," he said.
At least Drabek is closer. In his last five starts he is 3-1 while walking four against 15 strikeouts. His 7.84 April ERA has been contrasted by a May ERA of 3.48. "I think things have gotten better from my second, third, fourth and fifth starts when I wasn't throwing well at all. Then again, it would be hard not to notice a difference," Drabek said.
Drabek took the mound with a first-inning lead after Palmeiro scored Hammonds with a two-out double against A's starter and exiled Oriole Jimmy Haynes (3-2). Drabek's closest brush with a problem came in the bottom of the inning when Rickey Henderson was cut down trying to score by left fielder B.J. Surhoff. Once given a 7-0 lead Drabek faced the minimum 12 hitters the next four innings.
During their nine-game losing streak the Orioles were outscored 57-30, allowed a .304 batting average and hit only .244 themselves. Drabek's four-hitter marked only the second time in 10 games the Orioles hadn't allowed at least nine hits.
Much of the success came from Drabek's willingness to throw first-pitch strikes. He needed only 96 pitches.
"More than anything, a first-pitch strike gives you confidence," Drabek said.
For the first time in weeks, the Orioles played a tight game for nine innings. Hammonds stole a base and reached on a third-strike passed ball. Cal Ripken executed a perfect hit-and-run.
Roberto Alomar's leadoff walk in the third inning led to the hit-and-run single by Ripken, moving Alomar to third base. Surhoff gave the Orioles a 2-0 lead with another single and Lenny Webster loaded the bases with their third consecutive hit. By now, Haynes was visibly laboring. After Mike Bordick fouled out to right field, he walked Brady Anderson to force home Surhoff for a 3-0 lead.
Hammonds, breaking a 3-for-26 slump, then smashed a Haynes fastball to dead center field, his fourth home run.
"I'm glad to get more of a chance to play," Hammonds said. "But nobody has come to me in a sit-down situation and told me that's the way it's going to be. I'll just take it as it comes."
The Orioles finished their breakout in the sixth when DH Harold Baines celebrated his 2,500th game by doubling home Mike Bordick and Hammonds.
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site: Oakland (Calif.) Coliseum
Time: 4: 05 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Doug Johns (0-1, 4.86) vs. Athletics' Kenny Rogers (6-2, 3.88)
Pub Date: 5/24/98