The Baltimore Orioles' 8-6 loss to the New York Mets before 47,480 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards tonight could be used as a promotional video for National League partisans.
The Mets won the way NL teams are supposed to win -- with timely hitting, smart base-running and solid starting pitching. New York scored five runs in the sixth and seventh innings without an extra-base hit. Starter Masato Yoshii held the Orioles to one run until the seventh, by which time he had a seven-run cushion.
The Orioles lost the way American League teams traditionally lose -- their power hitters had an off night and Baltimore couldn't find another way to score. As they often do, the Orioles added some poor relief pitching to the mixture, with Ricky Bones getting tagged for three runs in two-thirds of an inning.
The Orioles (39-52) lost for the same reason they have often lost this season: They were outpitched. This time, though, Baltimore didn't wait until the late innings for it to happen.
Orioles starter Juan Guzman (4-8) averted any major mishaps in the first four innings, allowing two runs in the first. But in the fifth, four of the first five Mets to bat reached base safely, and three of them scored. Guzman gave way in the sixth to Bones, and soon the Orioles were down 8-1.
By the time the Orioles got to Yoshii and staged their first rally, it was too late. Four seventh-inning runs off Yoshii and Rigo Beltran brought the crowd back into the game, and they looked like they might even bring the Orioles back into the game.
The bottom of the Orioles' order sparked the rally, with Ryan Minor, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Charles Johnson each singling. Eventually, all three would score to bring the Orioles within 8-5. But once the Mets (53-40) doused that fire, the Orioles' five-game winning streak was on its way to extinction. Jeff Conine provided the Orioles with a late run, hitting a solo homer in the eighth.
Former Oriole Armando Benitez came on in the ninth to save the game for the Mets.
"Our offense battled back again; I was proud of them," Orioles Manager Ray Miller said. "We have to find a way to get Conine in there more, but it's kind of hard" to find a place for him.
After Brady Anderson scored in the first, the Orioles mustered one strong scoring opportunity in the first six innings. Perhaps taking a cue from the Mets, cleanup hitter Albert Belle nearly manufactured a run with quickness and guile rather than his usual raw strength. Belle led off the inning with a single, then stole second and advanced to third on a sacrifice fly to center by Harold Baines.
Belle stood 90 feet from tying the game. Two outs later, he would still be standing there. After Will Clark walked, Minor struck out swinging for the second time and Hairston ended the inning with a groundout to third.
Belle's impression of Rickey Henderson was fitting, because Henderson started the game with a good impression of Belle. The Mets' left fielder sent Guzman's fourth pitch of the game into the left field stands, the major league record 75th time Henderson has led off a game with a homer. It also gave Henderson 999 lifetime RBI, an incredible number for somebody who has batted first for virtually his entire career.
Edgardo Alfonzo followed Henderson with a double, and after walk to John Olerud walk and single by Robin Ventura, the bases were loaded. Bones started warming up in the bullpen, Miller wiped his face with a towel and Guzman promptly committed a pitcher's least pardonable sin: He walked a .232 batter, Brian McRae, on four pitches with the bases loaded. Guzman got Matt Franco to hit a weak grounder back to Guzman, who threw to catcher Johnson to start a double play.
Guzman seemed to calm down after that. He gave up two hits and a walk in the next three innings, and no Mets reached second with less than two outs in that span. But in the fifth, Henderson returned to the role of Henderson again, singling and eventually scoring on a single by Mike Piazza.
"I think I settled down," Guzman said. "[In the fifth] they just hit a bunch of singles that nobody can reach, nobody can get to."
Orioles Notes: Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken will be evaluated again Monday to see if he is ready to return from the deep bone bruise in his wrist that has sidelined him since he was hit by a pitch Thursday.
Miller said he expects Ripken back soon. Ripken being Ripken, the third baseman would have liked soon to have happened by now. In the dugout Saturday night, Miller spotted Ripken without his protective brace on his wrist.
"Where's the thing?" Miller asked.
"I'm healed," Ripken said.
He wasn't healed, but Ripken took fielding practice smoothly. Although he isn't quite ready to bat, it appears he will avoid going on the disabled list for the second time this season -- and second time in his career.
"We'll just have to see," Miller said. "He'll come back as soon as he's ready to hit. Three days is all he needs to heal. He's the most durable guy I've ever seen."
CAPTION: Rickey Henderson leads off game with home run against Juan Guzman, a major league record 75th time he's done it. Henderson had three hits, scored three runs.