BALTIMORE, JULY 9 -- Eric Bell pitched his best game in more than two months, but for the second time in six days the Baltimore Orioles were beaten by a pitcher they'd never seen before last weekend.
It's likely they won't forget Les Straker's name for a while. Tonight, he teamed with Jeff Reardon on a seven-hitter as the Minnesota Twins beat the Orioles, 3-1, before 22,656 at the Memorial Stadium.
Straker got all the runs he needed in the fifth inning when catcher Tim Laudner hit a three-run homer, which was more than enough to keep the Twins (48-38) in first place in the American League West and to keep the Orioles from winning two straight games for the first time since May 27-28.
So the losses mount and mount for the Orioles, who may be closer than ever to a roster shakeup. They did announce one move tonight, sending out utility infielder Rene Gonzales and calling up Ron Washington from Class AAA Rochester.
Washington, 35, was in the Minnesota organization for seven years before being released last winter. At Rochester, he played infield and outfield and hit .322 with 15 homers and 37 RBI in 70 games. There were indications tonight more moves may be coming, possibly one involving second baseman Rick Burleson.
Tonight, the Orioles (33-52) didn't have a starting pitcher to blame for the loss. Laudner's homer accounted for the only runs off Bell (6-7), who pitched 7 2/3 innings, his best performance since taking a no-hitter into the ninth against the Twins May 5.
"He pitched well," Orioles Manager Cal Ripken Sr. said. "He made one bad pitch and it went out of the park with two men on. It's a shame to waste it. This is the kind of game we've been hoping to get from our starters."
Bell needed to be almost perfect, as the Orioles continue to have problems scoring runs. Mike Young is in a one-for-19 slump, Ken Gerhart in a two-for-18.
Then there's the leadoff spot. Alan Wiggins went hitless in four at-bats to drop his average to .240. In the last 16 games, Orioles leadoff men are hitting .121. No leadoff man has reached base in the first inning in 17 games.
Bell, winless in his last eight starts, accepted the performance, having finished seven innings for only the second time in 16 starts.
"The big thing is I went out and threw strikes," he said. "That's probably what got me struggling in the first place. Before, I was trying to throw the pitch on the black every time instead of just throwing strikes."
He ripped through the first four innings, facing the minimum 12 hitters by getting double-play grounders in the first and fourth. He opened the fifth by getting Gary Gaetti on a groundout, then walked Tom Brunansky, gave up a single to Kent Hrbek and hung an offspeed pitch to Laudner, who drilled it over the left field wall for a 3-0 lead.
"From where I was standing, he challenged me," Laudner said. "He jammed me the first time up. The second time up, I go the bat head out and got it."
That was the 82nd home run Baltimore pitchers have allowed in the last 47 games, and the 125th this season. As play began tonight, their pitchers had given up 11 more homers than any other staff and were on a pace to allow a major league-record 239, two more than the Kansas City Athletics allowed in 1964.
Straker was outstanding again, retiring 13 of the first 14 hitters. The only close call in the early innings was in the second, when Kirby Puckett leaped over the center field fence to bring Larry Sheets' fly ball back into the park.
"I felt a little tired in the fifth, but I kept going because I had a 3-0 lead," Straker said. "They're good hitters over there, but they're in a slump."
The Orioles broke up his shutout in the seventh, mainly because Twins second baseman Steve Lombardozzi had a bad inning. Cal Ripken Jr. led off with an infield single and went to second on Lombardozzi's throwing error.
Eddie Murray then scored Ripken with a single beneath Lombardozzi's glove. Sheets popped out to third, then Ray Knight singled to left. But Straker kept the lead at 3-1 by getting Terry Kennedy on a fly to center and Gerhart on a grounder to shortstop.
The Orioles knocked Straker out an inning later. After Young led off with a single, Wiggins forced him at second and Fred Lynn doubled to right. Wiggins stopped at third on the double, and that turned out to be a big play.
Twins Manager Tom Kelly brought in Reardon, who struck out Ripken and Murray to end the eighth. He also got the Orioles out in the ninth for his 17th save.
Before winning in the 10th inning Wednesday, the Orioles had gone 1-11 in their previous 12 games decided in the seventh inning or later . . .
Tonight was the 30th game the Orioles have started a rookie pitcher. They're 10-20 in those games . . . Young's eighth-inning single ended a zero-for-27 slump for Baltimore's designated hitters.
From News Services
ROCHESTER, N.Y., July 9 -- In his first start for the Rochester Red Wings, Scott McGregor pitched five innings, allowing five hits and three earned runs tonight in a 4-0 loss to the Columbus Clippers in an International League game.
Dan Pasqua homered off McGregor, who threw 67 pitches.
Brad Arnsberg became the league's first 10-game winner, allowing Rochester five hits.
Pasqua's two-run shot capped a three-run second inning for Columbus. It was his second home run since his demotion from the New York Yankees. He was four for four, adding two doubles and a single.
The shutout was Arnsberg's second of the season, both against the Red Wings. Columbus is 50-38, Rochester 48-40.