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  •   The Gipper Must Wait

    By Richard Justice
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, April 27, 1988; Page C1


    The 1988 Streak:
    Game 19
    MINNEAPOLIS, APRIL 26 -- They had two cases of champagne iced and waiting in their clubhouse. They had another bundle of telegrams and phone messages, and even President Reagan had called to offer encouragement.

    In the end, though, it was another night when the Baltimore Orioles couldn't win one for the Gipper, Flipper, Ripper, Skipper or anyone else. They couldn't hold a lead, they made a base-running mistake and they didn't make a couple of key sixth-inning pitches.

    And they did lose, 4-2, to the Minnesota Twins before 21,172 at the Metrodome.

    The noose of history closes a little more tightly. The winless Orioles are the ninth team in major league history to lose 19 consecutive games, the first to do it at the start of a season. Only five teams since 1900 have had longer losing streaks, and Wednesday the Orioles can tie the American League record of 20 consecutive losses by the 1906 Boston Red Sox and the 1916 and 1943 Philadelphia Athletics.

    For a couple of weeks, they tried to take the losses in stride, to be gentlemanly and proper. Tonight, players sat in front of their lockers staring into space, and their manager came close to taking the head off a cameraman who tried to trail the Orioles out of their dugout.

    "We're not in a fishbowl," Manager Frank Robinson snapped. "There's a lot of pride in this organization and this ball club. We're going through tough times, and you're trying to catch us when we're down. You've got to give us a break."

    His team had not only lost its 19th straight, but did it against another struggling team. The world champion Twins had lost 11 of their first 16 games and begun to talk about wholesale roster changes when baseball's Maytag Repairmen bopped into town.

    The Orioles had gotten both the Brewers and Royals on track earlier in this 12-game road trip, and tonight they did the same thing for the Twins.

    Frank Viola (2-1) and Jeff Reardon combined on a three-hitter, and Kent Hrbek homered twice and Randy Bush once as the Twins scored three times in the sixth and once in the eighth to rally from a 2-0 deficit.

    Orioles starter Mike Morgan (0-4) pitched just well enough to lose, which is one reason his 38 losses the last two-plus seasons lead the major leagues. He took the shutout into the sixth, then in the space of five hitters, he was trailing, 3-2.

    "Another tough ball game," Robinson said. "We're asking our pitchers to throw a shutout every night. That's very tough against that team in this ballpark. We've got to start scoring some runs. If we don't, our pitchers are going to be thinking every time they make a mistake the game is over."

    Morgan said basically the same thing, adding, "I can't be unhappy with that performance. I have to think that if I go out 35 times and allow three runs in six innings, I'll win one sometime. We're going to turn it around sometime, but it's not as quickly as anyone thought."

    The beginning wasn't bad for the Orioles. Robinson rearranged his batting order, moving Fred Lynn into the leadoff spot "because right now we don't have a leadoff hitter."

    Lynn said, "Maybe I'll pop one and get us going."

    He did. He opened the game with his fifth career home run off Viola, and the Orioles had their sixth lead of the season. They made it 2-0 in the third when Bill Ripken drew a one-out walk and scored on Cal Ripken double's to left.

    That was the Orioles' third, and as it turned out, last hit. They did have runners in scoring position in the eighth and ninth and were in good position to score when Reardon walked Jeff Stone and Terry Kennedy to lead off the last inning.

    Robinson sent up pinch hitter Joe Orsulak for third baseman Craig Worthington (zero for three in his major league debut), and Orsulak hit a hard liner to the left of second base. Shortstop Greg Gagne scooted a few steps to his left and made the catch, then tossed to second baseman Tom Herr to double off Stone, who had inexplicably wandered off the bag. Lynn then flied out to end loss No. 19.

    Incredibly, that was Stone's fourth base-running blunder of the season, and with each day, he comes a bit closer to winning Pete Stanicek a promotion to the big leagues.

    "That didn't help," Robinson said. "His run doesn't mean anything, and he can't leave the bag until the ball goes through. He has got to see that ball through the infield."

    For awhile, it appeared this might be the Orioles' night because Morgan was pitching so well. He got big defensive plays from Lynn (twice), Worthington and Bill Ripken early in the game to string together five shutout innings.

    But Kirby Puckett led off the sixth inning with a single to left, and on Morgan's next pitch, Hrbek hit his first home run of the season, a towering shot over the fence in left-center. He had entered the game with no home runs, three RBI and a .222 batting average.

    "There was pressure tonight, sure there was," Hrbek said. "We've been the ones giving up the big ones, and tonight we got one. The Orioles are going through some tough times, but we've been going through tough times ourselves."

    Viola said Lynn's home run didn't rattle him "because he has gotten me a few times before. I'm just lucky there was no one on base. I was struggling with my control, but was able to hang around for awhile. I really didn't think of this as a pressure game. I don't think it compares to the seventh game of the World Series. I slept about 17 hours yesterday, so it wasn't like I was on pins and needles."

    After Hrbek's home run, Gary Gaetti grounded out and Gene Larkins flied out. But Morgan couldn't live with success. He grooved a fastball to Bush that ended up above the Hefty Bag in right, and the Twins were on top, 3-2.

    The Orioles try to avoid the AL record Wednesday night when they send out veteran Scott McGregor, who has lost 14 of his last 17 decisions and hasn't won since May 16, 1987.

    "You don't figure this," Larry Sheets said. "You don't ever figure this. The shortstop is playing up the middle when Joe Orsulak is hitting one of the best fastballs {Reardon's} in the league. I don't know anymore."

    © Copyright 1988 The Washington Post Company

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