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O's fall on long wak in rain

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Chuck McElroy stood on the brink of baseball history yesterday while Orioles pitchers walked everyone in sight. Rain fell, a game dragged and a doubleheader was chopped in half.

Two delays totaling 5 hours, 4 minutes interrupted the Orioles' 7-4 loss to the Oakland Athletics and brought the latest alteration to the schedule. The clubs will play two games today, at 1:05 p.m. and 6:05 p.m., with the A's trying to widen their lead in the wild-card race and the Orioles attempting to relocate home plate.

They issued 15 walks, the last two by Leslie Brea in the ninth inning, breaking the club record of 14, while falling to 66-85. It's their most losses since 1991.

"I think we did an amazing job of holding them to seven runs when you walk 15 people," said manager Mike Hargrove. "You can't win doing that. We're better than that."

Scheduled to start at 1:35, the game didn't end until 10:36 p.m. The A's wanted to keep playing, but the commissioner's office determined a postponement was warranted based on how late the nightcap would have finished.

Yesterday's fiasco included another loss for Jason Johnson (1-10) and another injury to shortstop Melvin Mora, who was carried off the field in the second inning after fouling a pitch off the inside of his left knee. X-rays taken at Camden Yards were negative, and he's listed as day-to-day.

Mora, who missed seven games earlier this month with a strained hamstring, collapsed after the ball smashed into his knee. Trenidad Hubbard and assistant trainer Brian Ebel lifted him, and Mark Lewis completed the at-bat by striking out.

Not many people saw it.

The crowd, if such a small gathering constitutes one, was announced at 30,166, but came closer to a few thousand. The upper deck in left field was empty. Ushers almost outnumbered customers.

Anticipating plenty of open seats for the nightcap, club officials earlier in the day had invited fans to stay for Game 2 at no additional charge. It was their reward, or perhaps punishment, for waiting through a franchise-record 2-hour, 43-minute rain delay at the start.

McElroy watched from the bullpen, having already decided not to disrupt his usual routine. He volunteered to pitch in the opener if needed -- anyone capable of throwing strikes would have been welcomed -- while awaiting an opportunity to start that had eluded him at this level. It's been put on hold until today when he opposes Barry Zito, with Jose Mercedes starting the second game against Gil Heredia.

Left-hander Mike Stanton had set the major-league record last May for most games pitched before receiving a start in his 553rd appearance. McElroy was used in relief 603 times, beginning in 1989 with Philadelphia, before being given today's assignment.

"Now I can sleep past 6:30. I was excited this morning. Now I can let my stomach calm down a little bit," he said.

Hargrove wanted a left-hander to match up against Oakland sluggers Jason Giambi, Matt Stairs and Ben Grieve. Rookie John Parrish had made eight starts this season, but didn't receive consideration because of some glitches in his mechanics that are being addressed on the side.

"We didn't really feel like Parrish was a guy we wanted to start because of the work that still needs to be done with him, which is ongoing," Hargrove said.

"We've stretched Chuck out throughout the season to where we feel like he can go out and give us three or four good innings."

McElroy, 32, became an option about a week ago, during a period when he struck out 10 batters in seven innings. Acquired in a December trade with the New York Mets for reliever Jesse Orosco, McElroy is 1-0 with a 5.50 ERA in 41 games covering 52 1/3 innings.

Pitching coach Sammy Ellis broke the news to him during batting practice before Monday's game. "He pulled me aside and told me, 'Don't have a heart attack, but you're starting the second game.' I didn't know if I should keep shagging [balls] or sit back and relax," McElroy said.

"Whatever they need me to do, I'll just go out there and do it with a lot of excitement because this is something I love. I just wish I was in the National League. I'd get to hit."

McElroy's last start came in 1996 while on an injury rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis. He also made one emergency start for Triple-A Scranton in 1990. He hasn't been used in that role without the influence of an injury -- his own or a teammate's -- since 1988 at Double-A Reading.

"We needed somebody and he was the logical choice," Ellis said. "I said, 'Calm down now, don't faint on me,' but he was all right."

The same wasn't true of the Orioles' bullpen yesterday.

Johnson was charged with three runs and walked two in 1 1/3 innings. B. J. Ryan replaced him in the seventh with the bases loaded and walked three straight batters on 13 pitches to tag Johnson with the loss. Randy Velarde stroked a two-run single off Buddy Groom before the left-hander recorded the last two outs.

Like everyone else, rookie Jay Spurgeon found the elements to be the tougher foe. Making his fourth major-league start, he lasted two batters into the sixth inning before being removed with a 3-2 lead. Rain fell throughout most of his outing, once bringing members of the grounds crew rushing to the mound with a bag of sand and a rake as he dug mud from his cleats. They began making similar trips to the infield every inning.

Eric Chavez belted a leadoff homer in the sixth as the rains became heavier. Jeremy Giambi walked before Johnson was summoned. Spurgeon allowed five hits and walked six among his 110 pitches.

He fell behind, 1-0, in the third inning when he hit Sal Fasano, threw a wild pitch and allowed a single by Terrence Long. The damage was contained because Long got caught in a rundown as Fasano scored, and a single by Velarde and walk to Giambi were wasted. Spurgeon also walked two batters leading off the fourth without permitting a run when Ryan Minor used his extensive reach to snare a line drive by Long, and he stranded two more in the fifth by getting Miguel Tejada to ground out.

The A's had stranded 10 by the sixth inning, 16 for the game. They lost the lead in the fourth when Jerry Hairston doubled and came across on a two-out single by Lewis. They fell behind in the fifth when starter Ariel Prieto allowed four hits and was removed from the game.

Luis Matos singled with one out and moved to third when the Orioles executed a hit-and-run with Eugene Kingsale. Brady Anderson flied out to center for a 2-1 lead, and consecutive singles by Hairston and Delino DeShields produced another run.

Hairston's bat has returned from the dead. He was 0-for-24 before a first-inning single on Monday, and had three hits yesterday.

That wasn't the only resurrection. Minor had been 0-for-27 before bouncing a single into left field in the sixth inning that scored Lewis, who led off with a double, for a 4-2 lead. It was Minor's first RBI since Aug. 14.

Orioles today

Opponent: Oakland (2 games)

Site: Camden Yards

Times: 1:05 p.m., 6:05 p.m.

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: A's Barry Zito (5-3, 2.72) and Gil Heredia (14-11, 4.14) vs. O's Chuck McElroy (1-0, 5.50) and Jose Mercedes (12-6, 4.18)

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