Up two in 10th, O's still fall, 10-9

Fletcher's 3-run shot beats Orosco as Jays deal O's 7th loss in row

July 01, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- Capable enough to overcome huge deficits, the Orioles remain bewildered when it comes to closing out a game. The familiar script played out again last night as their bullpen twice bungled leads and finally collapsed against the Toronto Blue Jays, 10-9, on Darrin Fletcher's three-run homer against Jesse Orosco in the 10th inning.

The Orioles lost despite overcoming a 5-1 deficit against Blue Jays starter David Wells. They lost despite 16 hits, three home runs and uplifting contributions from Jeff Conine, Brady Anderson and Mike Bordick. They lost yet another game in which Mike Mussina stood to receive the win. They lost for a season-high seventh straight time, lurching back to the AL East basement after 15 games in fourth place.

"My biggest concern -- and I don't know what to do about it -- is the psyche of the ballclub. You get a two-run lead and give it right back. I can't ask for anybody to contribute more," manager Ray Miller said.

Miller used Orosco out of role but hardly placed him in an unfair position. A specialist imported against left-handed hitters, Orosco saw Shawn Green, Carlos Delgado and Tony Fernandez before Fletcher. As Miller cited, "He's got three lefties and a switch-hitter."

Fletcher celebrated his blast by raising both arms as a SkyDome crowd of 21,137 celebrated the Blue Jays' 10th consecutive home win against the Orioles. The loss came almost exactly 24 hours after the Orioles had rallied from a 5-0 deficit only to lose 6-5 in 10 innings.

"I think this was a little different," said Anderson, whose pinch single in the top of the inning scored Conine for an 8-7 lead. "I think everybody felt we had a better chance to win this one."

The win was the Blue Jays' first in 38 games when trailing after eight innings. It was, however, nothing new for the Orioles. It was their fourth loss when leading after eight innings and their seventh when leading after seven. They fell to 7-14 in one-run games, 4-19 within the American League East and 13-13 for June despite an 11-1 rush preceding their losing streak.

Orosco, 42, enters July with an 8.15 ERA, 16 walks and 21 hits allowed in 17 2/3 innings. Never a rapid starter, the left-hander has been especially tested this season.

"Things don't turn around on their own. Speaking for myself, I've got to do what I'm supposed to do, and that's get the lefties out," said Orosco. "When it goes bad, it goes bad. This isn't the first game that something has happened. Today the guys came back and scored two runs to give us the opportunity."

Orosco's mistake wasn't the only one. Mike Timlin mishandled a 7-6 lead in the ninth by surrendering a game-tying pinch home run to ex-Oriole Willie Greene leading off the ninth. Remembered in the visitors clubhouse as a man without a position after being acquired for Jeffrey Hammonds, Greene was batting for the first time since June 20 when he also connected for a pinch home run, thus making himself only the 16th player in American League history to homer on consecutive pinch at-bats.

"It seems just about every blown save and every loss has come against 7-8-9 in the order, and that's a shame," said Miller. "I don't care who they pinch hit, if a guy is in the seven, eight or nine hole you need to do something. But you can't defend walks and you can't defend balls riding out of the ballpark. You can't put anybody out there to catch them."

The Orioles forced a 5-5 tie in the sixth on four consecutive hits. After B. J. Surhoff singled, Albert Belle doubled and Harold Baines singled, Conine's two-run homer capped the rally.

In the seventh, Bordick slammed a two-run homer to chase Wells and provide a 7-5 lead. The Blue Jays countered with a single run in the seventh, setting up Greene's tying blast.

The Orioles retook the lead in the 10th because Conine beat out a grounder, Cal Ripken stopped an 0-for-13 slump and Anderson produced in an unfamiliar role. Charles Johnson added the final Orioles run with a sacrifice fly.

"That's why I tell you I worry about the psyche of the ballclub," continued Miller. "Even after Timlin gives up the home run, everybody's coming off the field saying, `Let's go. Let's get 'em.' Then we get a two-run lead. The bottom line is: you're paid to get somebody out, you need to get somebody out."

Orosco dropped his third save in as many chances. The bullpen has converted only 13 of its 26 save opportunities. Last night was the third home run Orosco has allowed to left-handed hitters this season -- and his second to Fletcher.

Co-closer Arthur Rhodes never stirred; he had appeared on Tuesday and was considered off-limits. Scott Kamieniecki warmed three times from the fifth through the 10th inning. Though Kamieniecki guessed he would have entered had Fletcher not homered, Miller said that was not the case.

Orioles today

Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays

Site: SkyDome, Toronto

Time: 2: 05 p.m.

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: O's Scott Erickson (3-8, 6.66) vs. Blue Jays' Joey Hamilton (1-5, 7.88)

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