- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2001


BALTIMORE When the Baltimore Orioles were struggling through a prolonged offensive slump back in April, it wasn't uncommon to hear players refer back to Hideo Nomo's no-hitter on the second day of the season. The frustrations of such a horrific night at the plate still resonated in the clubhouse weeks later, until Mike Hargrove's young team simply played its way out of its funk.
Don't be surprised if, three weeks from now, the Orioles are still haunted by the events of the past three days at Camden Yards, a series against the Toronto Blue Jays that could qualify as Baltimore's most maddening of the year.
The capper was yesterday's 5-1 loss before a crowd of 37,994, a game in which the Orioles amassed all of three hits against rookie right-hander Brandon Lyon. One of those hits Melvin Mora's sixth-inning solo home run constituted Baltimore's lone run of the series and prevented the setting of a dubious mark.
Before Mora's homer, the Orioles had gone 23 straight innings without scoring and were on the verge of being shut out three straight games, something that has not happened to this franchise in at least 20 years.
"Guys see that, and they want to be the one to turn things around," Hargrove said. "It's a learning process that everybody has to go through. It's a lesson that has to be relearned time and time again. We're going to be OK. It's just a rough spot that we're going through offensively."
Having lost the first two games of the series by scores of 5-0 and 9-0, the Orioles who fell to 22 games under .500 for the second time this season were inept against the Blue Jays, totaling 15 hits over the weekend while losing their sixth straight to their AL-East counterparts. The 23-inning scoreless streak was the franchise's longest drought since it went 25 straight innings without scoring June 18-21, 1997.
Perhaps more troubling was the fact that it happened against a less-than-spectacular pitching staff. Shut out by Chris Carpenter on Friday and Kelvim Escobar on Saturday, the Orioles fared no better yesterday against Lyon, a rookie who has made five career starts and has dominated this team twice.
The 22-year-old won his major-league debut against Baltimore Aug. 4 at SkyDome, surrendering a first-inning run before tossing 6 1/3 scoreless and retiring the last 14 batters he faced. After holding the opposition to one base hit in the first 5 2/3 innings yesterday, Lyon (3-2) had retired 31 of 32 Baltimore batters. And by the time he departed after the sixth, he was the proud owner of a 2-0 record and 1.35 ERA against the Orioles while going 1-2 with a 10.95 ERA against everyone else.
"I was on," Lyon said. "It's definitely how I'd like to pitch every time. For sure some of the best stuff I've had all year."
With no help from his offensive mates, Baltimore starter Jose Mercedes had to be nearly perfect to have any chance against the Blue Jays, an unlikely scenario given the right-hander's laborious season. Mercedes (7-15) gave up two runs on four hits through five innings but allowed four straight to reach base in Toronto's three-run sixth.
"All of a sudden, he was behind all the hitters," Hargrove said. "That's a tough way to pitch, especially against a team that can bring the kind of hitters to the plate the Blue Jays can. When you do that, you're really on thin ice."
The staff leader in wins last season with 14, Mercedes' future with the Orioles is becoming murkier with each passing day. A free agent at season's end, Mercedes will make his next scheduled start Saturday but could be passed over in favor of September call-ups down the stretch.
His teammates, meanwhile, face the daunting task of rediscovering their silent bats against an increasingly difficult schedule. The Oakland Athletics, currently leading the AL wild-card race, open a three-game series at Camden Yards tomorrow, followed by the league-leading Seattle Mariners.
Once a dominant team on its home turf, Baltimore is now 26-38 at Camden Yards this season and would need to go 14-2 against the A's, Mariners, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Yankees to avoid its first sub-.500 home record since 1991.
"Baseball is all about playing the situation and learning how to react to it," said Jeff Conine, one of the Orioles' few offensive veterans. "If you've never been through a slump like this before, then you don't know how to react to it. Hopefully, everybody will learn and next time it will be shorter or it won't happen again."
Note Longtime bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks, former pitcher Mike Boddicker and former general manager Hank Peters were inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in a ceremony before yesterday's game. Hendricks, in his 33rd season as either a player or coach with the franchise, was the first person to be enshrined while still active in his position. Boddicker went 79-73 with a 3.73 ERA from 1980 to 1988 and was the 1983 ALCS MVP. Peters was the team's GM from 1975 to 1987 and led the franchise to two AL pennants and one World Series crown. . .
Second baseman Jerry Hairston sat out yesterday's game after tweaking a groin muscle running out a double play Saturday night. With the team off today, Hairston is expected to be back in the lineup tomorrow… .
First baseman David Segui missed his fourth straight game with a sore left knee. With rosters expanding next week, it's unlikely he would need to be placed on the disabled list.

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