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.
The Orioles were all but officially eliminated from the American League East race last night when they suffered a 9-1 loss in the opening game of a twi-night doubleheader against the Texas Rangers. Checked on three hits, they offered troubled starting pitching in return and trailed 5-1 after two innings. Rangers starting pitcher Rick Helling (15-11) trailed after two pitches but surrendered only a pair of singles while recording the next 24 outs.
If not for the Rangers stranding 11 runners, the beating would have been far worse as neither John Parrish nor Jason Johnson could contain a lineup that saw Scarborough Green and Bill Haselman contribute three hits each and four hitters produce multiple RBIs.
The Orioles were held to three runs or less for the sixth time in seven games.
The Orioles manager hasn't experienced the sensation of being eliminated from a pennant chase since 1993. Only the Atlanta Braves' Bobby Cox has avoided the unpleasant after-taste 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," said Hargrove. "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 along 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. 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."
Hargrove's arrival sparked optimism that this season might be different, but the realities of an aged clubhouse coupled with terrible pitching made a 15-10 start irrelevant. Instead of maintaining a clubhouse filled with veterans, he now juggles a roster of faces largely unknown six months ago.
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.
Last night provided a glimpse at young contenders for next April's rotation.
Early returns were not good as the first game stretched interminably. The Orioles became desperate enough that the deliberate Johnson was summoned to quicken the pace.
Rookie left-hander John Parrish (2-4) made his first 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 Triple-A Rochester. The Rangers erased a 1-0 lead resulting from Brady 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 debut featured seven quality innings against the New York Yankees. His wins came 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.
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.
"He's a young kid," Hargrove said. "If he was 32 or 33, you'd worry. But he's getting his first taste of the major leagues."
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Site: The Ballpark in Arlington (Texas)
TV/Radio: HTS / WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Pat Rapp (7-11, 5.75) vs. Rangers' Ryan Glynn (5-3, 4.58)