Rare is it a game at Camden Yards is played in a mid-June fog. But last night's evaporating starting pitching, stumblebum fielding and lackluster relief validated the weatherman's forecast.
The team with the first-inning grand slam and four-run eighth inning beat the team that sent 11 hitters to the plate during its seven-run fourth inning. The Orioles may have looked better in almost all their previous wins but it's doubtful they've been more resilient than in last night's 11-10 beating of the Texas Rangers before a damp announced crowd of 39,231 at Camden Yards.
In a game that first raised fresh doubts about the back end of their starting rotation before offering an uplifting finish, the Orioles tied the game on left fielder B.J. Surhoff's two-run single with two outs in the eighth inning then won with Delino DeShields' broken-bat single that scored pinch runner Brady Anderson in the bottom of the ninth.
The turnabout extended their winning streak to four games while dropping the last-place Rangers into a season-high seven-game funk.
The win nullified both a ruinous start by Pat Rapp and seven extra-base hits by the Rangers, including three by catcher Ivan Rodriguez. This time a bullpen other than the Orioles' was charged with abandonment.
Surhoff contributed his 10th home run and his game-tying single during a five-run outburst covering the seventh and eighth innings.
The Orioles capped their rally in the ninth with Cal Ripken's leadoff single that brought Anderson off the bench as a pinch runner. Rangers manager Johnny Oates replaced reliever Tim Crabtree with closer John Wetteland. A one-out walk forced Anderson into scoring position before DeShields pulled Wetteland into right field for the game-winner.
The hit made a winner of Mike Timlin, who pitched a perfect ninth.
After 3:37 of sloppy ball, the Orioles celebrated a four-run comeback after facing what would have been their fifth loss of the season after leading by five runs.
Kenny Rogers stumbled through the first three innings while allowing five walks and four hits. He pitched nervously in the first inning and didn't get his first out until he trailed 4-0. Nine of the first 16 hitters he faced reached base as the game assumed a glacial pace. Rogers entered last night's game 4-2 since April 24 and with a 1.98 ERA in his previous four starts, three of them against teams with winning records. He hadn't allowed a home run in that stretch while averaging just 90 pitches per outing. But instead of again pitching efficiently, Rogers appeared uncomfortable after walking leadoff hitter Rich Amaral.
Mike Bordick's single and a four-pitch walk to Surhoff brought the inning to Albert Belle. Rogers kept Belle waiting for several minutes as he picked mud from his spikes.
The delay did nothing to unsettle Belle, who spoke to plate umpire Tim McClelland while Rogers tidied himself. Attempting to jam Belle with a breaking pitch, Rogers instead let it hang over the plate, and Belle turned on it, hooking it hard against the webbing just inside the left-field foul pole.
Belle's grand slam was the 12th of his career and his first since 1997. It seemed just the weapon to bury a team riding a six-game losing streak.
Rogers, struggling to find a rhythm with Rodriguez, looked little better in the second inning than in the first. A one-out double by second baseman Mark Lewis preceded a ground ball that advanced him to third and a walk to Bordick. Surhoff then grounded a ball that second baseman Mike Lamb couldn't field cleanly, giving him an infield single and the Orioles a 5-0 lead.
For three innings, Rapp was as efficient as Rogers was sloppy. The Rangers pushed only one running into scoring position while Rapp struck out three and ended the third inning with a ground double play. One of his two hits allowed was Royce Clayton's bunt that died in front of the plate.
But Rapp is always one inning away from lapsing into a nibble mode with his cut fastball. His previous start included 123 pitches in 5 2/3 innings, the third time this season he had averaged 20 pitches or more per inning in a game.
The Rangers cut into his lead quickly when Rodriguez doubled, Rafael Palmeiro walked and designated hitter David Segui sliced a three-run homer to left-center field.
Rapp never regained his footing. A one-out walk to Lamb, Gabe Kapler's double to left field and a walk of No. 9 hitter Clayton loaded the bases and brought Hargrove out of the dugout, ending Rapp's night with a two-run lead five outs short of the five-inning mininum needed for a win.
The collapse extended a difficult June for the No. 4 starter. Since his last win May 29, Rapp has surrendered 14 earned runs in 14 innings, a 9.00 ERA, while allowing 34 base runners.
Hargrove still considers Rapp a more palatable alternative to Jason Johnson as evidenced by a decision to skip the younger pitcher after Monday's day off.
Last night's start may have complicated the situation, though what Johnson did in an uncomfortable relief role hardly helped him, either.
Johnson entered the game with the tying run at second base and the bases loaded. The first hitter he faced, Luis Alicea, hit a three-hop grounder to Will Clark at first base. However, the harmless-looking play unraveled when Clark boxed the grounder, grabbed it a second time, then looked up to find Johnson late to the bag. No play was made as Clayton scored and the bases remained loaded on what was scored a single. Rusty Greer smoked a sacrifice fly to center field to force a 5-5 game.
Hargrove's decision to temporarily move Johnson to the bullpen chafed the pitcher, who was irritated by being optioned during spring training and has experienced little but frustration since.
Rodriguez added to Johnson's load by driving his second double of the inning into the right-center field gap to score two runs for a 7-5 lead. The Rangers' outburst marked the third time this season and the second time in the last week the Orioles have suffered a seven-run inning.
Given a lead, Rogers became a solid front-runner. The Orioles managed one hit from the third through the sixth innings. Chuck McElroy held the game with two scoreless innings but the Rangers pressed their lead to 8-5 on Rodriguez's home run on Jose Mercedes' second pitch of the seventh inning.
Surhoff finally drove Rogers from the game with a one-out homer in the bottom of the inning. The blast, Surhoff's seventh in 17 games, made him the 17th player to hit 100 home runs in an Orioles uniform.
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Site: Camden Yards
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Rangers' Esteban Loaiza (3-4, 5.79) vs. Orioles' Sidney Ponson (4-3, 4.68)