O's first impressions make for some second thoughts


NEW YORK - In the first impressions department, it was a lot of sights to make the eyes sore. That's double trouble considering it's the first week of the season, with two blown games for the Orioles.

The less-than-stellar start to the season goes for the Orioles in general as much as it does for Steve Kline, the veteran reliever who has now given up two home runs in the past three games.

"I've been horrendous," Kline said yesterday.

Talk about understatement.

Where do we start? With the two errors so far from Miguel Tejada? An ugly little error yesterday by Rafael Palmeiro?

How about Jay Gibbons' fateful blunder in Thursday night's loss to Oakland?

Maybe the blown suicide squeeze that made you wonder whether yesterday's 8-5 loss to the Yankees was game 5 of the season or Game 5 of the World Series?

Then there is Steve Reed, who took the loss yesterday, and Kline, who has almost matched last season's total for home runs surrendered.

You can forgive a team for losing games, especially this time of year. Blame it on the weather. Blame it on the unfamiliar angle of the sun.

Certainly, the brightest star in the galaxy helped cause the Orioles so much heartache yesterday at Yankee Stadium. And when you fail here, you fail like no other place on Earth.

"I couldn't see it. Any ball going up in the last three innings, you couldn't see," Orioles left fielder B.J. Surhoff said yesterday after the Orioles squinted in disbelief as their near-win over Randy Johnson and the Yankees was surrendered, in the sun, and then lost in a one-pitch fit of pique.

Kline was beside himself after Yankees left fielder Hideki Matsui's fly ball dropped onto the dirt just inside the left-field line, in front of the outstretched mitt of Miguel Tejada. A run scored, tying the game that the Orioles had led 5-1 in the fourth.

The Orioles had spilled blood trying to fight the Yankees from staging a comeback. Brian Roberts had to plug his nose with cotton after Alex Rodriguez swiped him in the face, trying to break up a double play in the fifth inning.

But the blood was for naught.

And then Kline was downright apoplectic over his next pitch in the fateful seventh inning. It was clocked for a three-run homer by designated hitter Ruben Sierra, who surely anticipated Kline's lack of focus after the Matsui hit.

Sierra's bomb gave the Yankees an 8-5 lead en route to a comeback win that only further accentuated an unexpected and unpleasant early weakness on the part of the Orioles:

The inability to hold a lead late in the game.

"Sometimes you feel like you're giving them 25 outs out there," Kline said.

No part of the Orioles club was more anticipated than the bullpen - and that includes Sammy Sosa, who has yet to hit his first homer as an Oriole.

A notoriously late starter, Sosa has allowed the spotlight to train itself on the one small part of the club that the Orioles made an effort to strengthen this offseason.

Kline and Reed were brought in to bolster an inexperienced starting rotation. They were like the shiny red sports car sitting in the driveway, waiting for a test run.

Maybe someone should have hid the keys on manager Lee Mazzilli this first week of the season. So far, the test drives have been highly dangerous around the turns.

Thursday night, the Orioles squandered a terrific start by young lefty Erik Bedard. It was the kind of performance that led Sidney Ponson to anoint Bedard as the Orioles' starter with the best stuff on the staff.

Sometimes, the best isn't good enough.

A haunting image from Thursday's loss continues to be Gibbons' blunder at first base on a bunt play to third.

Instead of clearing out of the way of the throw from Melvin Mora, Gibbons stood frozen about 20 feet in front of the bag, intercepting the throw and allowing the runners to be safe.

Kline was on the mound that night, too. The added pressure was too much. The next batter, Eric Byrnes, promptly whacked a three-run homer to ice the game for the A's.

Yesterday, same situation. Starter Bruce Chen all but stymied a potent Yankees lineup, striking out six in six innings, but instead of a solid win, the Orioles squandered Chen's effort.

Kline again inherited base runners and some unfortunate karma from his new teammates. The sun impaired Surhoff's ability to track down Matsui's fly ball and Tejada, having to run around the high fly and twist into position, could not make the catch.

All of a sudden, the Yankees have tied the game. Yankee Stadium is rocking and Kline makes the mistake of giving the dangerous Sierra something he can handle.

"It was a [lousy] pitch and he hit it 600 feet," Kline said, fuming and wondering if he was trying too hard to make a good impression with his new teammates.

"I hope he's not happy," Mazzilli said.

So far, no one really is.

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