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  •   Orioles Threaten in Ninth but Lose 20th, 7-6

    By Richard Justice
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, April 28, 1988; Page B1

    The 1988 Streak:
    Game 20
    MINNEAPOLIS, APRIL 27 -- Their 20th consecutive loss came wrapped inside a wall of deception and a ball of confusion. It was the game the Baltimore Orioles couldn't win, then almost did win.

    In the end, though, despite a ninth-inning rally, it was more of the same as the tying run died at third.

    Kent Hrbek and Tim Laudner broke up a 4-4 tie with back-to-back eighth-inning home runs off reliever Bill Scherrer, and the Minnesota Twins helped walk the Orioles down the lonesome road of history tonight by a 7-6 score before 17,757 at the Metrodome.

    The 0-20 Orioles have now tied the 1906 Boston Red Sox and the 1916 and 1943 Philadelphia Athletics for the American League's longest losing streaks. And only modern major league team had a longer one. That was the 23-game skid by the 1961 Philadelphia Phillies.

    "This is just a real tough one," Orioles Manager Frank Robinson said. "It's gut-check time. It eats at you because it was right there, and you didn't get it. We're encouraged, but we're not looking for encouragement anymore. We're looking for a win."

    He should have known better. Veteran Scott McGregor lasted 3 2/3 innings, unable to hold a 3-0 first-inning lead. Robinson refused to say if McGregor, who hasn't won since May 16, 1987, had pitched his last game for the Orioles.

    "This is not the time to decide that," he said. "We can do that later. Scotty had you on the top step of the dugout all night. I don't think there was an inning we didn't have a pitcher up. It just didn't look like he could do the job tonight, and I was hoping for five or six innings."

    His bullpen was already over-worked, and it's more so now. Rookie Jose Bautista kept the Orioles in a 4-4 tie with 3 1/3 shutout innings, but when Robinson had to make another bullpen move, the house burned.

    He brought in Scherrer, a left-hander, in the eighth inning to pitch to left-hand-hitting Hrbek, and Hrbek led off with a towering homer to right, his third in two nights. Laudner followed with one in about the same spot, and when Scherrer walked John Moses, Robinson had to use Doug Sisk for the fourth time in six days.

    Sisk let in Moses with the final run when he fielded Al Newman's infield hit and tossed it down the right field line.

    The run appeared unimportant then, but in the ninth, the Orioles rallied for two runs against reliever Juan Berenguer. And with the tying run on third, Keith Atherton got Fred Lynn to ground out to end another loss.

    So with an early lead and a late rally, the Orioles did some things right. At the same time, outfielder Jeff Stone and Larry Sheets were thrown out trying to steal bases in key situations, as was Eddie Murray trying to stretch a hit. But as Robinson said, "With the way our offense has been going, we were trying to make something happened. Some of it worked. Some of it didn't."

    Stone suffered a dislocated right middle finger on his futile slide into third in the seventh inning and will be played on the disabled list Thursday. This probably will give the Orioles a chance to promote Pete Stanicek, a move they were contemplating, anyway.

    The mistakes overshadowed a night when the Orioles got a nice relief performance from Bautista and contributions from their two newest additions. Outfielder Keith Hughes singled in two runs in a three-run first inning rally, and third baseman Craig Worthington made his first major league hit a second-inning home run.

    In two nights here, Hrbek has hit his first three home runs and a double. Meanwhile, Scherrer, also called up from Rochester this week, has faced four hitters and allowed two homers, a double and a walk.

    "That's part of life, I guess," Scherrer said. "The pitch to Hrbek was down but he hit it out. I feel like I've been here for all 20 of the losses."

    The Orioles did generate some offense. Their 11 hits mark only the second time they've been in double-figure hits. Murray had three, and Bill Ripken and Cal Ripken had two apiece. But they got no cigar.

    "I talked to some of 'em before the game and asked what was going on," Hrbek said. "They said they just come back and try again every day. You have to give them credit. They're busting their butts. They showed a lot of character by coming back tonight."

    The Orioles got out of the gate fast, then once more never got to the final turn. But it appeared for a while they might.

    Twins starter Bert Blyleven (six innings, four runs) began by walking Stone and allowing singles to Bill Ripken and Cal Ripken. Cal's single scored Stone, and the Orioles had a 1-0 lead. Blyleven struck out Murray and Lynn, but walked Sheets to load the bases.

    Hughes grounded a single to right to score the Ripkens for a 3-0 lead. It was Hughes' 21st major league hit and his 11th and 12th RBI.

    Until that, the Orioles had gone 51 innings since throwing together more than one run in an inning.

    But McGregor couldn't hold it. He has lost 14 of his last 17 decisions and didn't even come close tonight.

    The Twins scored two quick runs in the first to get back in the game, 3-2. Dan Gladden and Tom Herr led off with singles, and Kirby Puckett scored Gladden with a single to left. Herr went to third on the play and scored on Gary Gaetti's fly to right.

    Worthington's homer in the second gave the Orioles a 4-2 lead, but Hrbek grounded a double down the right field line to lead off the home half. He went to third on Laudner's grounder and scored on Mark Davidson's.

    McGregor worked out of trouble in the third, only because what would have been a three-run home run by Gene Larkin died at the base of the left field wall (Stone made the catch and didn't even bobble it).

    An inning later, it was 4-4. Laudner got a one-out single, and went to second on Davidson's infield out. Newman dumped an RBI single in front of Stone in left. The ball appeared catchable when it left Newman's bat, but Stone not only got a bad jump on it, he wasn't quick getting to it.

    Nonetheless, Robinson had seen enough of McGregor.

    © Copyright 1988 The Washington Post Company

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