ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Suddenly the Orioles' second-half record seems less significant. Last night, they took a knife to the back.
Pinch hitter Bobby Smith's two-out single off Armando Benitez in the ninth inning scored Kevin Stocker with the winning run in a game the 61-57 Orioles believe was stolen from them three innings before. The 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays ended with Benitez unable to finish a hitter he initially dominated. It began with strong pitching going unrewarded and a missed call on a potential two-run homer.
Before 26,472 at Tropicana Field, what should have been a go-ahead two-run home run by designated hitter Harold Baines in the sixth inning was instead ruled a game-tying double.
Because the Orioles have left themselves little margin for error, last night's umpiring mistake becomes huge. The Orioles now find themselves with 10 more losses than wild-card leader Boston with only 44 games remaining. The math that desperately had to improve during this 10-game road trip is becoming tougher to rationalize.
The discrepancy only became more significant given the Orioles' poor swings against an expansion pitching staff. They finished with three hits. The bottom of their order continued a skid that leaves the Nos. 6-9 hitters 0-for-24 in this series.
The controversy occurred barely 24 hours after Miller met with American League supervisor of umpires Marty Springstead to complain, among other things, about a lack of respect accorded his club by some of the league's crews. This time, Miller got a hearing but he is still waiting for satisfaction.
Baines exudes a quiet presence. Eric Davis calls him "Sleepy." He is recognized both as the consummate professional hitter and the ultimate still-waters personality. Until Sunday against the Minnesota Twins, Baines had never been ejected from a game during his 19-year major-league career. The streak ended when replacement umpire Marty Foster tossed him for dropping his bat and walking away silently in protest of a called third strike.
It was Miller, not Baines, who hustled onto the field to confront Foster for his hair trigger.
For the second time in three days, controversy found Baines. This time the situation was maddeningly similar to the rash of border calls that have followed the Orioles all season. Home or road, friend or foe, questionable home run calls have gone against them at every turn this season.
This one turned a game. Santana allowed only one hit through five innings before walking Brady Anderson to begin the sixth. Santana had escaped damage from his first three walks. Baines made him pay for his fourth.
Baines drove a fastball to left-center field. Left fielder Quinton McCracken retreated and leapt for the ball, catching nothing but a face full of padding. Center fielder Randy Winn retrieved the ricochet while Anderson scored from first and Baines continued on a home-run trot. The RBI was No. 823 for Baines as a designated hitter, tying him with Hal McRae for most by the role. A record-breaker would have won the game.
Third base coach Sam Perlozzo quickly protested to third-base umpire Jim McKean. Miller asked for a second opinion but neither crew chief Al Clark nor plate umpire Terry Craft could overrule the call. Replays showed the ball disappearing behind the wall then coming back on the field.
From there, the missed call only got worse. Winn ran down Rafael Palmeiro's drive in deep center and Cal Ripken struck out. With two outs and B.J. Surhoff batting, Devil Rays catcher John Flaherty picked Baines off second base.
Never mind that a two-out steal of third is a tactical no-no. Baines has only four stolen bases since 1986 and none the last three seasons.
The combination denied Kamieniecki a chance at his first win since April 18. In his third start since spending two months on the disabled list with a herniated disk, Kamieniecki allowed six hits and one run through six innings, tying his second-longest appearance of the season.
Five of the first 12 Devils Rays to face the Orioles starter reached base, but Kamieniecki survived by stopping every leadoff hitter. His most glaring mistake came against right fielder Rich Butler with two outs in the fourth. Butler, recalled from Triple-A Durham July 22, cracked his second RBI in his last 36 games when he pulled a 3-1 pitch to right-center field for his fourth home run.
Stunned, Kamieniecki wobbled nearly halfway to the Orioles dugout while wearing a look of utter irritation.
Of the nine hitters to reach against Kamieniecki, seven did so with two outs. Butler's home run blemished what would have been his most encouraging sign of the season.
Santana made the sting even worse. Claimed off waivers from the Texas Rangers in April and used out of the bullpen until June 9, Santana gave Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild a sixth consecutive quality start. He lowered his second-half ERA to 2.49, fifth-lowest among AL starters.
Santana walked a season-high six while surrendering two hits through seven innings. Despite Santana's wildness, the Orioles worked with only three at-bats with runners in scoring position. Two came in the seventh when a two-out walk to the newest Oriole, Willie Greene, led to a stolen base and an error by third baseman Wade Boggs. With runners at first and third, Roberto Alomar grounded to first base.
The Devil Rays threatened reliever Alan Mills in the eighth, but this time Butler became an inning's scapegoat. With runners at first and second, he grounded to Palmeiro wide of first base. Mills helped himself by sprinting to first, where he became the end point for a 3-6-1 double play.
Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Site: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
Time: 12: 35 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM) Starters: O's Scott Erickson (11-9, 4.18) vs. Devil Rays' Wilson Alvarez (5-10, 5.22)
Edge for Rays
The expansion Tampa Bay Devil Rays have won five of eight games against the Orioles this season, including five of the last six. A look at the last six:
D Res. .... Summary
5/10 TB 4-3 McCracken HR in 8th
5/15 TB 4-1 O's held to six hits
5/16 TB 5-2 D Rays jump to 4-1 lead
5/17 TB 7-3 Rays score 5 in 8th
8/10 O's 2-1 Alomar GW single
8/11 TB 2-1 B. Smith single in 9th
Pub Date: 8/12/98