Tejada Falters, Orioles Tumble

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 20, 2005

KANSAS CITY, Mo., May 19 -- He crossed first base in the third inning after another squandered RBI opportunity, spread his arms, hands palms up, and looked to the skies as if asking what had happened to his batting stroke. At that moment, the explanation may have been sitting in a doctor's office in Baltimore. Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, who with Sammy Sosa in the lineup was an MVP candidate, has turned mortal without the sidelined, likely future Hall of Famer batting cleanup.

In Baltimore's 7-4 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Thursday, Tejada left six men on base and twice failed in game-deciding situations. With the bases loaded in the third inning, Tejada grounded out to third base. He could have tied the game in the fourth when he came up with men on second and third but flew out to right field to end the inning. Without Sosa, Tejada is batting just .241 with one home run and six RBI in 13 games. His batting average has dropped 39 points.

"Without Sammy in the lineup, it's totally different," Tejada said before the game. "They have to pitch to me."

After the game, though, Tejada put the blame on himself. He sat slumped in a couch in the clubhouse, rested his left hand on his head and stared into space. He did not move for several minutes.

"Sammy wasn't here last year," he said. "Right now I'm just struggling with my hitting. Anybody can get me out right now. I can't get it going."

Baltimore needed Tejada on Thursday because starter Rodrigo Lopez allowed six runs in the first three innings. In a four-run third, Lopez gave up home runs to Angel Berroa and Emil Brown.

"I think I was leaving the ball a little too high," said Lopez, who pitched seven innings. "That was the game. It was hard to get the ball down."

Baltimore had come back to win in the first two games of the series, but could not Thursday.

The Orioles rallied against Kansas City starter Runelvys Hernandez in the fourth, chasing the righty after scoring four runs. With the score 6-4 and men on second and third, the Royals brought in Leo Nuñez, 21, who began the season in Class A and had been summoned from Class AA Wichita last week. Nuñez struck out Melvin Mora and forced the fly out from Tejada. Baltimore had just one hit in 5 2/3 innings against Kansas City relievers.

Tejada has prided himself on his ability to carry a team. It seems to weigh on him now. His recent slump may have changed his approach at the plate, making him perhaps too eager. In the third inning Hernandez walked David Newhan and Mora to load the bases and started the count 2-0 against Tejada. Instead of taking a strike, Tejada swung at the next pitch, fouling it off.

"That's how he is," Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "That's how he plays the game."

Tejada has batted cleanup in Sosa's absence and has, for the most part, been protected by Rafael Palmeiro in the fifth spot.

"I've got another Hall of Famer hitting behind me," Tejada said.

Though Palmeiro can still be a dangerous hitter, he only began to hit consistently this season during the three-game series in Kansas City. Sosa has not had a tremendous start, but he still carries a reputation as a home run hitter.

Tejada intentionally was walked in the fourth inning of Tuesday's game with a runner on second. The Royals wanted left-handed reliever Andy Sisco to pitch to the left-handed Palmeiro.

"I don't think they'd do that if Sammy was behind me," Tejada said.

Tejada said he doesn't watch video, and wouldn't start to do so just to get out of a slump he called the worst of his Orioles career. Tejada said he would rely on his natural ability to make contact.

"I can't put too much pressure on myself," Tejada said. "What can I do? The good thing is I know I can hit."

The only solution, Tejada said as he picked up his suitcase and headed toward the team bus, was to imagine that Thursday was the last day of his slump. On Friday, it would be a brand new day, and his hitting stroke perhaps would be waiting for him in Baltimore.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company