Miller swings, O's miss, 6-3 Fire missing' angers manager; loss 8th in 9


TORONTO -- Clearing customs was going to be a challenge given all the heavy baggage the Orioles brought south last night.

Hellbent on finishing a lost season with a losing record, the Orioles suffered an emotionless 6-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays last night at SkyDome to fall to 78-80.

Only subtleties distinguished the last of a three-game sweep from the rest of a recent swoon that now includes eight losses in their past nine games. Poor starting pitching combined with limp hitting made the outcome obvious long before manager Ray Miller purged his bench with his team down 6-1 after six innings.

The Orioles have been held to three or fewer runs in six of their past 10 games and last night dropped a season-high 32 games out of first place. They tumbled two games below .500 for the first time since July 21, the day the front office decided against dissembling the club in hope of making a late-season rush.

They need a win this weekend in Boston to avoid the possibility of their largest deficit since finishing 39 games back in 1955.

Miller left Canada with the last two fingers on his right hand

taped, the result of a solid punch thrown to an office chair after Monday's 3-1 loss.

"It's been very important to me for the last week, but I'm not so sure how important it's been to everyone else," Miller said. "I don't mean people aren't trying to get hits or aren't trying to play, but there's a certain fire missing. And I don't know if that's because they [eight pending free agents] don't have contracts, but I don't like it."

Mike Mussina lost his chance at a fifth consecutive 15-win season on Tuesday and the Orioles clinched a fourth-place finish, their lowest standing since a sixth-place finish in 1991.

Last night it was Juan Guzman (10-16) who took the loss, giving up six runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The Blue Jays jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning and led 5-1 after two. Both rallies featured home runs off Guzman, who needed 90 pitches to get 14 outs.

With two outs in the first inning first baseman Carlos Delgado yanked a pitch off the right-field foul pole for the 2-0 lead. After Alex Gonzalez bumped the lead to 3-0 with a sacrifice fly, leadoff hitter Shannon Stewart completed a three-run inning with a two-out, two-run shot.

Guzman fell to 4-4 with the Orioles by making his shortest appearance in 11 starts.

"I don't know what's going to happen," said Guzman, who Tuesday demanded that the Orioles renegotiate his contract for next season or trade him. "I'm happy with my season. I didn't miss any starts. I pitched my innings. In a way, this has been like a rehab for me. I'm ready to go somewhere and pitch. It doesn't really matter to me. I just don't want to go through the same situation as this year where I pitch for somebody and then get traded [at the deadline]."

First baseman Rafael Palmeiro added embarrassment to a laugher when he assumed a walk in the sixth inning after three balls.

The Orioles, held hitless after Wednesday's fifth inning, unilaterally disarmed after the sixth inning this time. Brady Anderson, Palmeiro and Cal Ripken played six innings. Mike Bordick hung around for seven.

Rookie catcher Charlie Greene made the fourth start of his major-league career and played the entire game. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays took no chances as they clung to a sliver of hope in

the AL wild-card race.

Jays starter Kelvim Escobar (7-3) pitched eight solid innings. He received his biggest bruises from the Bowie Five who served as replacements. Calvin Pickering scored pinch runner Jerry Hairston with an eighth-inning single. Ryan Minor followed with another single to score Eric Davis for a three-run game.

Rocky Coppinger continued to show the Orioles more than his disgruntled reputation by throwing three shutout innings.

He struck out two, walked none and kept a bloated score from becoming even more unseemly.

Miller would like to see more from his young players.

"There's a real need for an infusion of energy here. You usually do that with speed and youth," he said.

So what's next?

"I'm going to play my best lineup and try to beat Boston," he said.

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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