- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 13, 2001


BALTIMORE If nothing else this year, the Baltimore Orioles have proved they can consistently beat bad teams, to the tune of 20 wins in 30 games against the likes of Tampa Bay, Detroit, Anaheim, Oakland, Texas and Montreal.
Facing one of the National League's most disappointing squads, the self-destructing New York Mets, the Orioles entered their three-game interleague series last night at Camden Yards with every reason to believe the trend would continue.
So much for that brilliant plan.
Jose Mercedes duplicated the shortest outing of the season by a Baltimore starter, lasting just 2 2/3 innings, and Mets third baseman Robin Ventura slugged two home runs in a 10-3 trouncing.
The loss prevented Baltimore from regaining sole possession of third place in the American League East and ruined any thought of a .500 record entering this weekend's series at Philadelphia.
Throughout this troubled season, Mercedes has routinely been plagued by one bad inning. That wasn't the case last night he had three bad ones, not a good sign considering his quick exit, matching Jason Johnson's 2 2/3-inning April 26 start at Detroit.
"I don't know if he lost his command or lost his concentration or focus or whatever," manager Mike Hargrove said. "But he started leaving pitches up and over the plate, and you just don't do that with any regularity and be successful."
Where to begin? How about the top of the first, when a double by Timo Perez, a single by Edgardo Alfonzo and a walk to Benny Agbayani loaded the bases with nobody out and Mike Piazza striding to the plate?
Mercedes actually gave the crowd of 34,812 reason to hope when he struck Piazza out on three straight pitches, but it quickly fizzled away into the steamy night. Ventura grounded to first baseman David Segui, who threw to shortstop Mike Bordick to begin a possible double play. Mercedes, though, was late covering first, and Bordick's throw was off-line, bouncing into the camera well and allowing two runs to score.
The pitcher again got a late break to first on a potential double play the following inning, giving the Mets an extra out that proved costly when Perez (who finished with four hits) tripled to deep right-center to bring another run across.
Yet that all paled in comparison to the third inning, in which Mercedes got two quick outs, then allowed five straight batters to reach base a walk, a double, another double, a walk and an RBI single up the middle by Rey Ordonez that mercifully brought an end to Mercedes' night.
The man who led the American League with 11 second-half wins a year ago trudged back to the dugout with a 1-8 record, a 6.15 ERA and a cascade of boos pouring down from the stands.
"We still believe in him. We still have confidence in him," Hargrove said. "But he's got to have that same belief and confidence in himself. I personally think that he will turn it around."
Said Mercedes: "The guy you see right now is the same guy that I have been for my baseball career. I haven't changed anything. I don't think I've been pitching all that bad. I still have my confidence, I'm not losing it at all."
Long reliever Chuck McElroy didn't do Mercedes any favors, allowing another run (the sixth charged to the starter) before escaping the third. The Mets showed no mercy, though, extending the lead to 9-3 on a two-run homer by Ventura in the fourth.
For good measure, Ventura added another homer in the eighth, a solo shot to right-center off Ryan Kohlmeier. It was the 20th multiple-home run game in Ventura's career.
For a brief while early in the game, the Orioles looked capable of hanging around in a slugfest. Bordick hit a two-run homer off Mets starter Rick Reed in the bottom of the first that tied the game 2-2.
Baltimore scored again in the third, when Jerry Hairston crossed the plate on Delino DeShields' fielder's choice. But Jeff Conine, mired in a 1-for-20 slump on the heels of a career-high 14-game hitting streak, lined out to right field to end the inning.
Baltimore threatened just once more against Reed (7-2). In the fifth the Orioles loaded the bases with two outs for Conine. Reed, however, struck out the cleanup hitter on three pitches, all but ending the night for Baltimore.
Rick White pitched three scoreless innings in relief of Reed and was credited with his first save.

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