Amid Changes, O's Drop 6th Straight
Rockies 5, Orioles 3
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 20, 2004; Page E09
Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
DENVER -- This is what major league chaos looks like: The slumping Baltimore Orioles were in a strange city, playing in a strange stadium. There was a bizarre lineup posted on the board. There were players missing because of injuries, other players showing up who nobody had heard of nor recognized, and still other players called into the manager's office and shipped out.
And that was merely a prelude to another sloppily played, uninspired performance on the field, as the Orioles fell to their sixth straight loss, 5-3 to the lowly Colorado Rockies on Friday night in front of 30,148 at Coors Field.
The loss, which was the Orioles' 13th in their last 16 games, dropped them to nine games under .500 for the first time this season and percentage points behind Toronto in the American League East.
"There's not a lot of positives at the moment," said veteran outfielder B.J. Surhoff, who became the latest starter to go down to an injury, leaving the game in the fifth inning with a strained left calf. "We've got to find a way to battle through it. We've got to find a way to get a win first."
Many of the Orioles' most disturbing trends continued apace Friday night:
• Right-hander Sidney Ponson gave the Orioles seven effective innings -- or, rather, six effective ones and one ineffective one -- but could not avoid his sixth consecutive loss and his ninth in his last 10 decisions.
After the game, Ponson (3-9) sent word through a team spokesman that he would not speak to the media.
• The offense went just 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position against Rockies lefty Shawn Estes (7-3) and two relievers, leaving them with a .245 average in those situations this season.
"You can't win," said right fielder Jay Gibbons, who went 0 for 4, grounded into a double play and failed to get a runner home from third base with one out in the eighth, "if you're not clutch."
• And the defense committed two more errors, which have been piling up in droves lately. One of them, on reserve infielder Luis Lopez, who had just entered the game at third base, started the Rockies to their pivotal three-run fifth inning.
Before the game, the team signed utility man David Newhan to a contract after he had been released earlier in the day by the Texas Rangers' Class AAA affiliate in Oklahoma.
Because Newhan's team had played the day before in Colorado Springs, the Orioles were able to bring him to Coors Field in time to be dressed for the game. However, as he walked into the clubhouse with his equipment bag, he was greeted by mostly strange stares, with players asking media members who he was.
Once it was determined that injured Orioles Melvin Mora (strained foot) and Luis Matos (bruised ribcage) did not need to go on the disabled list -- they were examined this afternoon at a local hospital -- the team decided to option Jose Leon to Class AAA Ottawa to make room for Newhan.
The move was an unusual one, seeing as how the Orioles are facing three straight left-handed starters this weekend, and Leon is a capable right-handed bat, while Newhan, who was hitting .328 in the minors, hits from the left side.
The injuries -- and perhaps a little impatience -- produced Manager Lee Mazzilli's most radical lineup of the season, with Surhoff in the No. 2 hole for the first time all year and Jerry Hairston making his first professional appearance at third base.
But Surhoff's injury left the Orioles with only one usable player on their bench -- Newhan, who entered as a pinch hitter in the ninth and promptly launched a 435-foot homer off Rockies closer Shawn Chacon in his first Orioles at-bat.
Hairston, meantime, went 3 for 4 and came within a home run of hitting for the cycle. He is hitting .324 while Brian Roberts, who is blocking Hairston's return to second base, is hitting .254 following an 0-for-5 night.
The Orioles moved into a brief 1-1 tie in the fourth inning on Rafael Palmeiro's 10th homer of the season and 538th of his career. But Ponson gave up a single run in the bottom of the fourth, then three more in the fifth. The big blow, which came four batters after Lopez's error at third base, was Todd Helton's two-run double into the spacious gap in left-center.
Orioles hitters may have been salivating at the rare opportunity to bat at this homer-happy yard, but their team-wide aversion to clutch hits failed to produce much offense. As luck would have it, Ponson was at the plate in the two most crucial situations, and struck out both times with a pair of runners on base.
"If I could give you an answer" to the lack of clutch hitting, said Mazzilli, "I'd fix it."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company