Seeking direction on the road


OAKLAND, Calif. - Upon even further review, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove and pitching coach Sammy Ellis remain stumped about the team's divergent performance at home and on the road. Hargrove expressed frustration, Ellis voice bewilderment. Both said if they knew how to fix the team's major-league-worst 10-26 road record, it would have been tried long before now.

The Orioles entered last night's series finale against the Oakland A's with a 6.27 road ERA compared to a 4.67 ERA at Camden Yards. Various theories suggest a bullpen more comfortable with its offense getting last hacks and a rotation more comfortable on its own moundare responsible for the curious affliction.

The question now greets Hargrove after ever road loss. It shows in his response.

"I don't know why. You can find all the numbers you want to support that we don't play as well on the road, it still doesn't give me an answer why our pitching is a run worse on the road. Is it a matter of guys having good innings at home and bad innings on the road? Probably.

"Is the mound different? I doubt it, but it could be.

"Is the bed different? Could be.

"Is the food different? Yeah, it's probably better in certain instances. A lot of factors go into those things," said Hargrove.

"You could ask me a thousand million questions and I'm still going to tell you I can't answer it. It's just one of those things."

The Orioles entered last night having lost nine of their last 10 road games and have gone nine consecutive road series without a series win. The questions become even more confounding because of the Orioles' 20-12 home record.

A common theory holds that a fragile bullpen is more secure at home. However, closer Mike Timlin is among those who refute it. Timlin says he relishes road games because there are more save opportunities presented than at home. However, when reminded that the Orioles play only 30 road games after the All-Star break, Timlin quipped, "That's the best news I've heard all day."

Ellis also remains perplexed. The Orioles appeared to sort out their pitching woes during their recent nine-game homestand only to watch Pat Rapp fail to get an out in Monday's third inning and Sidney Ponson fail to hold three leads on Tuesday.

"I can't tell you what it is," Ellis said. "It's not like these guys don't take care of themselves or that they abuse themselves on the road. That's not it at all. It's a mystery that I can't answer. If anyone has any ideas, I'm listening."

The Orioles entered last night having played 21 games decided in the last at-bat. They are 7-0 at home in such games, 1-13 on the road.

Trombley returns

After spending most of the last two days in San Francisco, reliever Mike Trombley made an unsteady return to the clubhouse. He didn't have much choice, given a get-away day to Seattle, but was still ill enough from a throat condition that he was seen by a doctor.

Hargrove downplayed Trombley's availability for last night's game. Trombley admitted feeling weak from what he described as strep throat. Trombley said he began feeling bad on the team's cross-coutnry flight to Oakland on Sunday night. By Monday he was too ill to pitch and on Tuesday phoned Hargrove to tell him his condition had worsened.

"Monday I didn't feel too hot but [Tuesday] it was like I couldn't get out of bed," said Trombley, who barely ate during the team's three-day stay.

Trombley's presence was needed Tuesday when Ponson had little backing. The result was a tough pull of 7 2/3 innings and an 8-5 loss.

Around the horn

Left fielder B.J. Surhoff extended his hitting streak to 15 games with a first-inning RBI single last night. He entered the game batting .404 (23-for-57) during the stretch. Surhoff's season remains one of streaks. He was hitting .350 through April 25 but followed that by hitting .125 in his next 25 games. ... Left-handed reliever Buddy Groom has pitched well recently, but not according to his save count. Groom entered last night having been scored upon in two of his last nine games but has three blown saves in that span. Groom has allowed runs in nine of 29 outings but surrendered more than one run only three times. ... Hargrove was impressed by rookie center fielder Luis Matos' robbery of Randy Velarde's would-be home run Tuesday that preserved a 4-4 game. "What I've seen the last two days, I haven't seen anything to indicate he's overmatched defensively," said Hargrove. "He played center field very well ... You can judge defensive skills much quicker than offensive skills."

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