- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2001


OAKLAND, Calif. Not since Willis Roberts' May 11 blowup at Yankee Stadium had a Baltimore Orioles pitcher failed to make it through the fifth inning, a fact that both underscores the solid starting pitching the Orioles have received this year and the lack of mound time long reliever Chuck McElroy has been getting.

So when a struggling Roberts was forced to make an early exit in the fourth inning yesterday at Network Associates Coliseum, Baltimore clearly was in foreign territory.

Despite McElroy's best efforts to keep his team in the game, a performance that may help raise the veteran left-hander's stock in the eyes of potential courters, the Orioles ran themselves out of a couple prime early scoring opportunities and never got much else going in a 5-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics.

Baltimore jetted back to the East Coast last night having gone 2-4 against the A's and Seattle Mariners and will conclude its nine-game road trip with a three-game series at Yankee Stadium beginning tomorrow.

"It could have been worse, it could have been better," manager Mike Hargrove said of yesterday's game, in which the Orioles managed one run off Oakland's Cory Lidle (1-4), Jeff Tam and Jason Isringhausen. "We got thrown out twice trying to steal second base. Both those times, we would have scored runs if the runners had stayed where they were. On the other hand, to get out of a bases-loaded situation only giving up two runs [in the fourth inning], even though the way the two runs scored kind of stunk, we were probably fortunate."

Roberts' on-again, off-again rookie season was firmly back in the off-position yesterday. Coming off two straight strong starts, the 25-year-old right-hander battled control problems from the beginning but benefited from some heads-up defense behind him to avoid a truly disastrous outing.

Fighting a tight forearm, Roberts (5-5) gave up a pair of singles to open the bottom of the fourth, then nearly threw the game away with a bad defensive play of his own. With two runners on, Oakland's Olmedo Saenz laid down a sacrifice bunt in front of the mound. Roberts, late to get to the ball, momentarily looked to third base to try to get the force out. By the time he realized that wasn't going to happen, he rushed his throw to first, nearly hitting Saenz and whizzing the ball past a handcuffed Jeff Conine.

Fortunately for the Orioles, second baseman Jerry Hairston was backing up the play and caught Roberts' errant throw on the fly. If Hairston was not in position, the ball would have rolled to the bullpen, two runs likely would have scored and Saenz could have wound up on third base.

"It's not so much a hustle play as much as you're just there," Hairston said. "If the first baseman doesn't get the ball, you just back him up."

With the bases loaded, Roberts got Robin Jennings to pop out but fell apart against No. 8 and No. 9 hitters Mark Bellhorn and Ramon Hernandez. Despite getting ahead of both batters 1-2, Roberts walked each Oakland player, allowing two runs to score and bringing Hargrove to the mound with a quick hook.

Roberts wasn't suffering from the lack of aggressiveness that plagued him in previous poor outings, but the result was the same.

"He didn't have his stuff today," Hargrove said, "and it was apparent by the third inning that he was going to struggle to get it."

The tight forearm, which Roberts said isn't serious, prevented him from using two of his bread-and-butter pitches the slider and split-finger fastball.

"It was a bad day today," he said.

Relegated to the role of onlooker as the Orioles' lone long reliever, McElroy was summoned for the first time since last Monday and the fourth time in a month and thrust into a bases-loaded, one-out jam. No matter. McElroy snagged Johnny Damon's line drive comebacker, turned and threw to first to double off Hernandez and end the inning.

"It was either catch it or take it off the head," he said.

McElroy made another nice defensive play in the seventh, snatching Hernandez's sacrifice bunt attempt with his bare hand and getting the force out at second. By the time he left the game, he had outlasted Roberts with 3 2/3 innings of two-hit ball.

Whether this outing has an effect on one of the many teams reportedly interested in acquiring McElroy remains to be seen. The 33-year-old, with his eighth major league club, is certainly aware of the trade talk.

"But I can't go out there and think about that," he said. "All I can do is go out and put up as many zeroes as I can to keep us in the game. Nobody wants [the long relief] role, but somebody has to do it. And I'm the one who has to do it right now."

Notes Baltimore's lineup appeared baffled by Lidle, who matched his career high by pitching seven innings and gave up only Chris Richard's sixth-inning solo home run.

It didn't help matters that the Orioles stranded five runners in the second and third innings alone.

"He had a good sinker, a real good changeup and spotted his fastball away," Hairston said. "The guy was on today. There were a couple times we were threatening early on and just couldn't get a run across. If we get a couple runs across, you never know." …

With a 3-for-4 afternoon, Conine continued his recent offensive surge. The first baseman was 7-for-14 in the A's series, was robbed of several more hits and heads to New York with a .336 batting average… .

Melvin Mora, who started at shortstop in place of Mike Bordick for the second time in four days, went 9-for-18 on this West Coast trip… .

Slumping Delino DeShields (14-for-81 in his last 23 games) batted eighth in the Orioles lineup for the first time this year.

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