The Orioles' bullpen couldn't provide manager Ray Miller with a quality starter or a reliable finisher last night, wasting what it gave him in between.
Four shutout innings from reliever Arthur Rhodes, who took the baton from the shaky hand of emergency starter Bobby Munoz, went up in the smoke swirling over a Eutaw Street barbecue stand, where Texas slugger Lee Stevens deposited a two-run, eighth-inning homer that helped send the Orioles to a 10-8 loss before 47,866 at Camden Yards.
The Rangers ended a five-game losing streak and any thoughts the Orioles had of completing a sweep this afternoon.
Rookie Sidney Ponson served up Steven's blast, which hit the roof of Boog Powell's popular grill. Of the 17 balls that have landed beyond the flag court, two have been placed there by Stevens. This was the only one that came with cole slaw.
Norm Charlton and Terry Mathews combined to give up three more runs in the ninth, with Domingo Cedeno's two-run single off Mathews turning out to be the difference in the outcome.
Joe Carter's two-run, pinch-hit double with two outs in the sixth inning had given the Orioles a 6-5 lead, completing a rally that began after Texas built a 5-0 lead through three innings against Munoz. Consecutive homers by Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar in the ninth inning came too late to burn the Rangers again.
The Orioles (25-29) were trying for their fourth win in a row, their longest stretch since the beginning of April. Instead, they were reminded how cruel this season has become.
The night began with the news that a third starter was going on the disabled list, Scott Kamieniecki's neck stiffness taking another chunk out of the rotation. The club will need another fill-in tomorrow, probably Richie Lewis, whose contract was purchased yesterday from Triple-A Rochester.
He can only hope to get the same support offered by Rhodes, who was appearing for only the second time since May 21 in
New York. He blanked the Rangers on two hits and struck out seven, including Juan Gonzalez with two runners in scoring position to end the fifth and Fernando Tatis with two more aboard to close the sixth.
It took two batters for Ponson (0-2) to erase his work. Ivan Rodriguez singled up the middle and Stevens launched the next pitch so far that right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds never budged except to tilt his head back as the ball disappeared.
"It was a changeup that stayed up," Ponson said. "I made a mistake and paid for it. I'd love to have it back. The changeup was the right pitch. If I had thrown it down, nothing would have happened."
The homer was only the second for Stevens in 18 games. "I was just locked in and tried to be aggressive on the first pitch," he said.
Miller said he would have used Alan Mills in the eighth if the reliever wasn't serving the last game of his suspension. The Orioles had wanted Mills to appeal, but his agent, Adam Katz, wouldn't file one.
"When you're playing with one reliever short, it puts you in a bad situation late in the ball game."
"Obviously, it's no fun to lose a game, but I'm proud of this ballclub. They rose to the occasion. Guys battled hard all night. Our bullpen tried to cover nine innings."
Making his first major-league start in more than a year, Munoz lasted three innings, leaving with the Rangers ahead, 5-0. He retired six of the first seven batters, the exception a leadoff homer by Gonzalez in the second inning that cleared the fence in left center. It was the third homer allowed by Munoz in eight innings since joining the Orioles on May 15.
Gonzalez would account for the fourth home run, as well, this time delivering a three-run shot into the Orioles' bullpen in the third inning. It came two pitches after Rusty Greer had slapped a bouncer up the middle, past Munoz's glove and just beyond diving shortstop Mike Bordick to score Cedeno, who had led off with a walk.
Munoz hadn't started a game in the majors since May 12, 1997. He was released by Philadelphia four days later and pitched for two teams in the Pacific Coast League. He signed a minor-league contract with the Orioles over the winter, went 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA in relief at Triple-A Rochester and was brought up to aid a weary bullpen.
The results haven't been good. Munoz has given up 11 runs in nine innings.
While the Rangers looked to tee off on a makeshift starter, the Orioles were hoping to continue Texas right-hander Rick Helling's downward spiral. Though he was tied for second in the hTC American League with a career-high seven wins, he had been 1-2 with an 8.31 ERA in his three previous starts.
Opponents were hitting .317 against him in the first inning. As if on cue, Brady Anderson led off with a double into right-center field, but didn't budge from there. Eric Davis tapped back to the mound, Harold Baines struck out and Palmeiro flew to left.
Helling would flirt with disaster or embrace it all night. He latched on in the fourth.
B. J. Surhoff and Cal Ripken lined consecutive doubles to left, trimming the lead to 5-1. It was Surhoff's seventh hit of the series. Chris Hoiles sacrificed him to third and Bordick brought him home with a single to right.
Anderson followed with a double into the right-field corner, moving Bordick to third. After Davis struck out, Baines delivered a two-run single, extending his hitting streak to nine games.
Helling set down the next four hitters, the most consecutive batters he had retired. But the streak was broken in a hurry. Hoiles singled to open the sixth, only his seventh hit in his last 52 at-bats. Bordick laid down a sacrifice bunt, and Helling was removed for left-hander Scott Bailes.
Hammonds, pinch-running for Hoiles, took third on Anderson's bouncer to the right side. Davis walked, and Carter was announced as a pinch-hitter for Baines. Texas manager Johnny Oates countered with right-hander Xavier Hernandez, who proved to be no relief.
Before doubling to left, Carter had three RBIs in his last 24 games, all coming on bases-empty home runs. He pumped his fist as he reached second base, then held his breath that his heroics would be enough.
The answer came off the bat of Stevens.
"We showed character coming back," Carter said. "No one in this clubhouse believes the playoffs are out of the question. There's a wild card out there."
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 1: 35 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Rangers' Darren Oliver (2-5, 6.66) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (5-5, 4.71)
Tickets: 400 remain
Taking on Hack
Comparing the monthly home run and RBI totals of the Rangers' Juan Gonzalez and Cardinals' Mark McGwire with those of the Cubs' Hack Wilson, who set the major-league record for RBIs in a season with 190 and hit 56 homers in 1930 (statistics through Friday's game for McGwire):
.. .. .. .. ..Wilson .. .. ..Gonzalez .. .. .McGwire
.. .. .. .. ..HR .. RBI .. . HR .. RBI . .. .HR .. RBI
Apr. .. .. .. .4 .. .11 .. .. 7 ... 36 .. .. 11 ... 36
May .. .. .. .10 .. .33 .. .. 8 ... 30 .. .. 15 ... 29
Jun. .. .. .. .8 .. .29
Jul. .. .. ...11 .. .30
Aug. .. .. ...13 .. .53
Sep. .. .. ...10 .. .34
Ttls .. .. ...56 ...190
Pub Date: 5/31/98