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The 1988 Streak
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  •   17th Loss Elemental, 4-3, Royals

    By Richard Justice
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Sunday, April 24, 1988; Page C1


    The 1988 Streak:
    Game 17
    KANSAS CITY, MO., APRIL 23 -- They could have littered the roadway with excuses. They could have pointed toward a dazzling sun that cost them two runs or a dancing wind that cost them another.

    Instead, the winless Baltimore Orioles took their 17th consecutive loss like gentlemen, not knowing whether to laugh or cry, twist or shout.

    The Kansas City Royals again did the honors, getting a wind-blown triple from Bo Jackson and a game-winning single from Kurt Stillwell in the last of the ninth inning to win, 4-3, in front of 23,564 at Royals Stadium.

    And on and on it goes.

    The Orioles became the 15th major league team to lose 17 straight games, the first to do it at the beginning of a season. Only 11 teams have had longer losing streaks, and the Orioles' is the longest since the 1977 Atlanta Braves dropped 17 in a row.

    "I hate this," said reliever Doug Sisk (0-1), who took the loss. "I hate losing. We've got all the excuses, the weather, not getting the breaks, but it's still just losing."

    A night earlier, they'd gotten a loud, angry lecture from Manager Frank Robinson, who told them that they were acting like losers, that it appeared they were giving up and that if they didn't shape up, they'd be replaced.

    He had no such quarrel today. Umpire Drew Coble ejected him for arguing a balk call in the second inning, but when the game ended, he was calm, unhappy that his team had lost but happy with the effort.

    "Each loss now is more than a loss," Robinson said. "It's magnified and that's the way it's going to be. But I have no problem with the way they played. I say every day that I think we're going to win. Hopefully, we will, and I can stop saying it. That's what you have to believe."

    He was especially happy to get seven strong innings from new starter Mark Williamson, a performance that comes at a time when Orioles starters had run up a 16.62 earned run average in their previous five turns.

    Williamson, an experienced reliever who was making only his third start in the major leagues and the fifth of his pro career, allowed eight hits and three earned runs. He again wasn't given much margin for error. The Orioles have scored three or fewer runs in 15 games and average 1.94 per game.

    So Williamson knew every run might be his last. The Orioles did lead by 1-0 in the first inning, 2-1 in the fourth and 3-2 in the fifth. Williamson might have made a lead stand up if left fielder Wade Rowdon hadn't lost a third-inning fly by Kevin Seitzer in the sun, or if Fred Lynn hadn't lost a sixth-inning fly by Danny Tartabull.

    Still, the Orioles were in the game until the end. Their trouble started in the bottom of the ninth when Jackson sliced a towering fly to right. When it left his bat, it looked as if it would be caught, but the higher it got, the more a strong northerly wind caught it and carried it to the top of the fence.

    "It looked like a routine fly ball," Lynn said. "He just got it so high that it got caught in the jet stream. I thought I was going to get it, but I ran out of room. I couldn't play any deeper. I couldn't jump any higher. I didn't have my US Keds on."

    It banged off the wall, and Jackson, a former world-class sprinter, made third easily. With one out, Sisk walked pinch hitter Thad Bosley intentionally, and with the infield drawn in, Stillwell punched a fastball into center field.

    "He has a good hard sinker," Stillwell said, "and I didn't want to cheat myself if I got a ball up. It really wasn't the pitch I thought I'd get, but I fought it off."

    The Orioles have lost games in almost every way imaginable, but this was the first they lost in sudden death. It had not started this way. With Kansas City starting left-hander Floyd Bannister, Robinson used his oddest lineup of the season, benching left-hand-hitting Lynn, Terry Kennedy, Joe Orsulak and Jeff Stone and playing Ken Gerhart, Tito Landrum, Carl Nichols and Rowdon.

    It almost worked. The Orioles scored a run off Bannister in the first inning when Cal Ripken walked and Eddie Murray doubled. They earned another in the fourth on Gerhart's first home run and a third in the fifth on Bill Ripken's double and Rene Gonzales' RBI single.

    But they had a couple of chances to break the game open and didn't. They left six runners on base, four of them in scoring position. Gerhart grounded out with a runner on second in the first. Rowdon hit into a double play with runners on first and second in the second. Murray flied to right with runners on second and third in the fifth.

    Meanwhile, the Royals were doing just enough to get by. Stillwell led off the third with a single and scored when Seitzer's fly dropped behind Rowdon for a double.

    "I had a good bead on it when it was hit," Rowdon said. "I looked up to catch it, and the sun was on my right side. I just lost it."

    The Royals posted another run in the fourth when Jim Eisenreich singled and, moved along by another balk, eventually scored on Jackson's sacrifice fly. And in the sixth, George Brett came home when Tartabull's fly ball fell in front of Lynn.

    "It's unbelievable," Lynn said. "We did everything to win the game except win the game. It's tougher with each loss. The ball Bo hit . . . That's an out 99 times out of 100."

    Orioles Notes:

    Robinson said he was yelling at plate umpire Tim McClelland when Coble intercepted and threw him out. The two bumped several times, but Coble said, "I won't write that up as a bump. It was just one of those things." . . . The seven innings ties the longest appearance of Williamson's career . . . Rochester's Jay Tibbs is 3-0 with a 0.40 ERA . . . Since starting the season two for 43, Cal Ripken has gone six for 14 (.429) and raised his average to .138 . . . Royals reliever Ted Power (1-0) pitched the final four innings for the victory . . . Orioles hitting under .200: Gerhart (.154), Kennedy (.178), Landrum (.111), Murray (.179), Cal Ripken (.138), Bill Ripken (.194), Rowdon (.111), Stone (.146) and Traber (.125).

    © Copyright 1988 The Washington Post Company

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