- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 13, 2002

CHICAGO After inflicting all kinds of damage on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays during a 15-run explosion Thursday night at Camden Yards, the Baltimore Orioles reverted to form yesterday in a 5-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

Less than 18 hours after posting the highest-scoring inning in franchise history, the Orioles managed all of four hits off Chicago ace Mark Buehrle, leaving manager Mike Hargrove to put his best spin on a 2-7 start to the season.

"I'm getting real tired of answering these questions," Hargrove said. "If this is still going on 40, 50 games into the season, then ask all those questions, I'll answer every one of them.

"Is it frustrating? You bet it's frustrating. Do we want to change it? Yeah, we want to change it. Do we need to change it? You bet we need to change it, and we're working to do that. But it's a nine-game trend. We've got a whole lot more to play."

The venue may have changed from the exquisite beauty of Camden Yards to the concrete jungle of Comiskey Park, but the Orioles looked like the team that lost six games in a row at home last week.

Despite a reshuffled lineup that included Melvin Mora leading off and playing second base for injured starter Jerry Hairston, Mike Bordick and Chris Singleton swapping the Nos.2 and 9 spots in the order and the season debut of Marty Cordova, Baltimore struggled to put together any offense against the White Sox.

Ninth-inning hits by David Segui and Jeff Conine equaled the Orioles' output through the first eight. Segui scored on a sacrifice fly by Tony Batista in the fourth, and Cordova who missed the first eight games with a strained right quadriceps homered to center field in the seventh to account for Baltimore's runs.

Perhaps a little letdown after Thursday's record-setting 12-run sixth against Tampa Bay?

"It should be the other way around," Conine said. "You score a bunch of runs, you want to keep doing it."

The runs are coming in bunches for the Orioles, but on a weekly rather than daily basis. In their two victories, they have scored 10 and 15 runs. In their seven losses, they have yet to score more than two runs or collect more than six hits.

It didn't help that the team arrived at its downtown Chicago hotel around 3 a.m. yesterday, 10 hours before game time for the White Sox's home opener.

"No excuses," catcher Brook Fordyce said. "You just have to tip your hat to Mark he pitched a heck of a game."

A 16-game winner in 2001, Buehrle is the ace of Chicago's young and talented pitching staff, and the left-hander has lived up to the billing thus far. By allowing two hits in seven innings yesterday, he improved to 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA.

"He's one of the best pitchers in the league," Conine said. "He was on today, and, heck, when a guy like that is hitting his spots, it's tough to get hits."

Baltimore's Josh Towers was not nearly as effective in his second outing. The 25-year-old right-hander gave up five runs and nine hits in 6⅓ innings, highlighted with three home runs by the White Sox. Jose Valentin connected on a changeup in the fourth for a two-run blast, Sandy Alomar Jr. went deep to left field to lead off the fifth and Ray Durham followed three batters later with a two-run shot to center field.

Death by the longball is nothing new for Towers, who relies on his pinpoint control to keep opposing teams off the scoreboard. In his rookie season, he allowed 21 homers in 140⅓ innings. In his two losses this season, he has served up five home runs, accounting for seven of eight runs scored.

"Obviously, I'm leaving [pitches] up," Towers said. "I'm making mistakes. The defense can't help me out if I'm letting balls go over the fence. I've just got to eliminate my mistakes."

Notes After straining a groin muscle Thursday night, Hairston is expected to miss a handful of games. That actually could qualify as good news for the Orioles, who were worried the second baseman's injury was more serious.

"It doesn't seem to be as bad as we feared it might be last night," Hargrove said. "Right now it looks like he's day-to-day. It could be tomorrow, it could be three days from now. If it gets much past five or six days, we'll revisit it, but it's looking like right now that we won't DL him."

Hairston first felt the injury early in Thursday's game, but the pain did not become serious until the sixth inning, when he had to sprint back to first base after a long flyout by Mora. He said he has dealt with this type of injury before and has typically returned within 3-4 days.

"I thought it would be a lot worse," he said. "Usually the next day you can't even walk. It was still painful, but it's not as bad as I thought. Hopefully, I'll be back soon."

The Orioles activated Cordova off the DL before yesterday's game, but as a precautionary move, Hargrove will use him as designated hitter for the time being. He could be back in left field within a few days. To make room, Baltimore optioned outfielder Luis Garcia to Class AAA Rochester.

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