- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001


BALTIMORE Looking to ignite any kind of spark in his faltering ballclub, Baltimore Orioles manager Mike Hargrove shook up his starting lineup last night. In the end, the new-look nine bore a striking resemblance to the old-look nine during another lackluster loss, this time to the Oakland Athletics by a score of 15-0.
Perhaps more telling than Hargrove's lineup tinkering, though, was his fifth-inning dressing down of home plate umpire Bill Welke, a heated exchange over balls and strikes that resulted in the manager's ejection. It also may have sent a message to the reeling Orioles players that someone is still willing to stand up for them.
That's been no easy task over the last week, during which time Baltimore has lost six straight games, has been outscored 44-4 and with last night's defeat before a rain-soaked crowd of 44,068 assured itself its first losing season at home since Camden Yards opened in 1992.
How the Orioles respond to Hargrove's on-field display of solidarity remains to be seen. There was little sign of anything following his ejection last night, other than Melvin Mora's argument with Welke over a borderline called strike in the sixth inning that led to Mora's premature departure from the game.
This much is certain: The Orioles can't sink much lower. After last night's game, the start of which was delayed one hour, 22 minutes by rain, Baltimore dropped to 25 games under .500 for the first time since 1991.
Hargrove has tinkered with his lineup all season long, to the tune of 119 different combinations in 133 games (most in the major leagues). Last night's new wrinkle included Mora batting in the No. 3 hole despite a .249 average and seven home runs, typical No. 9 hitter Jerry Hairston batting second and slumping outfielder Chris Richard (two hits in his last 20 at-bats entering last night's game) down from third to seventh.
The results were no different, though, not against left-hander Barry Zito, the third member of Oakland's stellar young pitching trio, who tossed six shutout innings and improved to 11-8 while the A's took a commanding six-game lead over Boston in the AL wild-card race.
Zito got the benefit of the doubt several times from Welke on close pitches, particularly with his curveball. Orioles' starter Jason Johnson, meanwhile, got no help from the umpire and was left shaking his head in disagreement on a number of occasions.
After retiring the first two batters he faced, Johnson (10-10) walked both Jason Giambi and Jermaine Dye on 3-2 pitches, then nearly got Eric Chavez looking at a curveball that was called a ball by Welke to run the count full. Chavez then crushed Johnson's 3-2 fastball over the center-field fence for a three-run homer that set the tone for the rest of the night.
Chavez added a grand slam in the eighth.
When Hargrove came out to remove Johnson from the game in the fifth, the manager had several words for his starter. Then as Johnson began walking back to the dugout, Hargrove approached Welke and started jawing at what he perceived to be an inconsistent strike zone. Welke wasted little time giving Hargrove the heave-ho.
One inning later, Mora voiced his own frustrations when Zito's first-pitch curveball was called a strike on the outside corner. The usually laid-back Mora turned to Welke and started to complain, leading to his ejection.
Johnson, meanwhile, became the latest Baltimore pitcher to see his season record fall to .500 or worse. The only members of the Orioles staff who have winning records this year are relievers John Bale, Jorge Julio and John Wasdin. All have 1-0 records.
Notes The Orioles traded perennial prospect Calvin Pickering yesterday to the Cincinnati Reds for future considerations. Pickering, who made two brief appearances in Baltimore in 1998 and 1999, was leading the International League this season with 98 RBI at Class AAA Rochester… .
Hargrove said he has decided who will start Sunday's game against Seattle in place of the injured Sidney Ponson, who strained a muscle in his right forearm on Tuesday, but declined to reveal who it will be. With rosters expanding to 40 players Saturday, the Orioles likely will turn to a young arm to make the start, with candidates including Sean Douglass, Rick Bauer, John Stephens and John Parrish.

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