- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2001


TORONTO The swarm of bugs that descended upon SkyDome in the second inning last night made for unpleasant viewing conditions for 20,115 spectators.
Another ugly performance by Baltimore Orioles right-hander Jose Mercedes might have made the experience even more intolerable.
Making his first start since the July 31 trading deadline at which time the Orioles were hoping to find a taker for the slumping pitcher Mercedes lasted just 2? innings in a 10-1 drubbing by the Toronto Blue Jays that dropped Baltimore to depths they haven't seen in a decade.
When the Orioles glance at the American League standings in this morning's paper, they'll find themselves 20 games under .500 for the first time since the final day of the 1991 season.
They reached that dubious mark after Mercedes duplicated his shortest start of the season, resulting in his league-leading 13th loss one year after he won a team-high 14 games.
It also didn't help matters that the Orioles' offense accounted for all of four hits two in the first inning, including Chris Richard's RBI double off four Blue Jays pitchers. Starter Kelvim Escobar (3-5) earned the victory with 5? impressive innings.
Earlier in the day, Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove announced that rookie Willis Roberts is headed to the bullpen with an eye on the closer's job while Calvin Maduro assumes the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation. With no other legitimate alternatives on their roster, the Orioles appear to have no choice but to ride out Mercedes' season-long slump.
The 30-year-old future free agent had momentarily righted himself with 6? shutout innings in his last start Sunday at Anaheim. Baltimore's front office was hoping that performance might raise Mercedes' stock and spur a last-minute trade with a contending team. But vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift was underwhelmed with any offers that came forth, and Mercedes remains in the rotation.
After his solid showing in California, Mercedes (5-13) reverted to his old self last night, surrendering two runs in each of his three innings to fall to 1-5 since July 1. Jose Cruz and Alex Gonzalez belted extra-base hits to deep right field to lead off the first, with Gonzalez's triple bringing Cruz around for the Blue Jays' first run.
Things got worse for Mercedes, who served up a two-run homer to Homer Bush in the second just about the time thousands of gnat-like bugs converged inside the stadium, leaving fans and players making swatting motions for the rest of the night.
When Mercedes was finally pulled after plunking Darrin Fletcher shortly after giving up two more runs with two outs in the third, Hargrove wasn't the only one who decided he had seen enough. Home plate umpire Tim Welke ordered the SkyDome roof closed to prevent further "aphid infestation," as the Blue Jays termed it. Of course, once the massive roof was sealed, the remaining bugs were trapped inside.
Meanwhile, Toronto exterminated the Orioles by scoring runs in each of the next three innings before rookie fireballer Kris Foster, obtained in last week's Mike Trombley trade, held the opposition scoreless in his first career inning. The 26-year-old right-hander gave up one hit, made a nice defensive play on a hard-hit ball and struck out Cruz with a 98 mph fastball.
Roberts also got a chance to pitch in his new role as a late-inning reliever, though with the Orioles trailing by nine runs he wasn't exactly placed in the kind of pressure situation Hargrove would like. He struck out Gonzalez on a 96 mph fastball to open the eighth but loaded the bases by hitting a batter and allowing a single and walk before escaping the jam.

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