Crunch time: Orioles eliminated

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ARLINGTON, Texas - Mike Hargrove hasn't had to perform this kind of arithmetic for most of a decade: What does it mean when games behind are greater than games remaining?

The answer, of course, is wait 'til next year ... or 2002.

The 65-80 Orioles were officially eliminated from the American League East race last night when they suffered a doubleheader sweep against the Texas Rangers. The common denominator was troubled outings by rookie starting pitchers John Parrish (2-4) and Jay Spurgeon (1-1), who surrendered a combined 11 runs in 5 2/3 innings. Five of the runs against the two began as walks. Four of six runs against Spurgeon were driven in by two home runs.

"I need to be more consistent. It's not enough to pitch like you're capable every other time out. It needs to be every time out," said Spurgeon.

"I hurt myself tonight. You can't walk guys with two outs like that. And the run that scored in the third started out as a walk. That can't happen, but it did tonight," said Spurgeon, who lasted four innings while allowing six earned runs on only four hits.

"It sounds crazy to say a guy pitched well after he gives up six runs. But if you take away the two home runs, I thought Spurgeon pitched well," said Hargrove.

Now 19 1/2 games off the division lead with 17 to play, the Orioles continue to look for flourishes that project to next season. Last night, two of their brightest talents gave themselves no chance.

The Rangers won the first game, 9-1, then scored four runs in the first inning against Spurgeon to win, 6-5, in the second game. The Orioles managed only three hits against Rangers starter Rick Helling (15-11) in the opener and were contained for seven innings in the finale by Kenny Rogers (12-13).

Hargrove hasn't experienced the sensation of being eliminated from a pennant chase since 1993. Only the Atlanta Braves' Bobby Cox has avoided the unpleasant aftertaste longer. Hargrove's teams followed with five consecutive AL Central titles, two World Series appearances and three 90-win seasons. Now, instead of looking forward to October, he projects toward next spring training.

"It's been awhile since I've been on this side of the math," he said before last night's double beating dropped the Orioles to 5-7 on a 13-game road trip which concludes tonight. "You take your motivation out of what we're involved in and the way this ballclub is being built. I'm very excited about this club and the chances for next year and the year after that. If we continue to add to it in the right way, this has a chance to be something the fans of Baltimore can enjoy for a long time."

The loss dropped the Orioles to 65-79 and prevented them from winning consecutive games for the first time this month. Indeed, they have spent the first 11 games of this 13-game trip by alternating wins and losses. Almost guaranteed the club's third straight fourth-place finish, Hargrove has maintained a strong grip on the long term.

"It's the big leagues and there are very few people who can do my job," Hargrove said. "I really like the players we've got. I think we have a fantastic owner [Peter Angelos]. He's much-maligned, but I think he's a good man and a good owner. I think there are a lot of things at work right now. I think that's very, very exciting ... Each situation has its own motivation. If it was in Seattle or in Oakland or in Cleveland, it would be a different story."

Instead, the Orioles used a second-game lineup that has produced a combined 38 home runs this season, 17 of them by Brady Anderson.

Anderson finished with three of the Orioles' 11 hits in the doubleheader, which saw Ryan Minor receive his first major-league start at first base, Brook Fordyce bat cleanup and Mark Lewis hit fifth.

In the opener, Cal Ripken played his second game at third base since returning from the disabled list Sept. 1. Ripken played the entire game, going 0-for-4 with two balls out of the infield to drop his month's average to .214 (6-for-28). He sat out the second game.

A bare-bones offense never had a chance in the finale. In less time than it takes to say "wild-card fever," Spurgeon trailed 4-0 in the first inning after retiring the first two hitters he faced. Rookie right fielder Pedro Valdez broke open the inning with a three-run homer, the first of his major-league career.

Parrish, optioned to Triple-A Rochester Aug. 30 to right himself, made his first major-league start since Aug. 29 and was crushed for five runs in 1 2/3 innings. Guilty of 16 walks in 10 2/3 innings covering his previous three starts, Parrish mixed three more walks among six hits in his first appearance since returning from Rochester. The Rangers erased a 1-0 lead resulting from Anderson's leadoff home run on Gabe Kapler's first-inning sacrifice fly. Parrish collapsed in the second when six of seven hitters reached against him.

Parrish's only out of the inning, Luis Alicea, settled for a sacrifice fly because of a diving catch by center fielder Eugene Kingsale.

Parrish represents an enigma. His July 24 debut featured seven quality innings against the New York Yankees. His wins have come against the big-swinging Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians. But last night marked the third consecutive start in which Parrish failed to clear the third inning. His ERA in that span soared to 22.22.

"It's been the same story my last few starts," said Parrish. "I thought I was making some good pitches but I wasn't making quality pitches."

Mechanics appear elusive for the 22-year-old. High pitch counts have become a regular occurrence, as Parrish last night needed 54 pitches, only 25 of them strikes, to get five outs. Hargrove remained noncommittal about whether Parrish would receive another start, but there may be sentiment to give Luis Rivera his first major-league opportunity since his July 31 arrival from the Atlanta Braves.

"He's a young kid," Hargrove said of Parrish. "If he was 32 or 33, then there would be concern. But he's a young kid, and this is his first taste of the big leagues. I was disappointed in his last four or five starts. But am I worried? No.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Texas Rangers

Site: The Ballpark in Arlington (Texas)

Time: 8:05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Pat Rapp (7-11, 5.75) vs. Rangers' Ryan Glynn (5-3, 4.58)

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