The Baltimore Orioles lost two games Tuesday to the Florida Marlins by a total of three runs. The Orioles stranded two runners in the eighth and ninth innings of the first game and four runners in the eighth and ninth innings of the second game. They sent 14 batters to the plate with runners on base in those innings, yet never deployed their best hitter and run-producer, Harold Baines.
Baines was on deck when Jeff Conine fouled out with runners on first and second in the ninth inning to end the 5-3 loss in the second game. He also did not appear in the earlier 2-1 loss.
The Orioles' bullpen blew a 1-0 lead after seven innings in the first game and yielded the winning runs in the bottom of the eighth in the second, after the Orioles had tied the score in the top of the inning.
But the Orioles also had several late scoring chances that fizzled, making Baines's absence from those situations even more noticeable.
The problem, Manager Ray Miller said, is that Baines is a pure American League designated hitter, and these interleague road games are played under National League rules. Since 1993, Baines has played once in the field -- two innings in right field on June 10, 1997.
"Speed, agility and maneuverability become very important in the National League," Miller said. "When an AL team comes in and has a strictly DH guy, you're kind of limited. He either hits off the closer in the ninth or, preferably, to add to a lead in the seventh or eighth."
In the ninth inning of the second game, the Orioles had the top of the order at the plate against Marlins hard-throwing closer Matt Mantei. Two runners reached base -- Brady Anderson on a leadoff single and Albert Belle on a two-out walk -- before Conine fouled out to end the game.
"It was tough" leaving Baines on the bench, Miller said. "But I also know Mantei is coming in throwing 98 miles per hour, and you hope you have your best fastball hitters at the plate. And as it turned out, we did -- [B.J.] Surhoff, Belle and Conine. I could've hit [Baines] for Conine, but if I did, Harold is going to have to play somewhere in the field."
Belle Swings Hollow
Belle's lack of production in the middle of the order -- he has one homer since May 18 and was 6 for his last 34 at-bats (.176) entering tonight's game -- has become a major problem in the Orioles' offense. Today, Miller said he plans to talk to Belle about scaling back his taxing pregame hitting routine.
"He gets here early, he hits off hand-flips, he hits live [pitching], he hits between innings," Miller said. "I think sometimes you can do too much of it. I'm going to start talking to him about it pretty soon. I'm sure that's what he has done in the past and he's been pretty successful. . . .
"He is bordering on coming alive. I'm seeing more hits. Obviously, he hasn't done what he's done in the past, where he's driving the ball and getting extra-base hits. All you can do is wait it out. I don't think I really have much of a choice."