O's 'pen writes bad ending

Yanks avoid sweep, rally to win, 5-4, in 10

September 24, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Brooks Robinson in the house. Jason Johnson pitching as if it were July. Cal Ripken playing as though it were the last home game of his career. If the perfect moment could be found within a season gilded by disappointment, the Orioles briefly bathed in it last night at Camden Yards.

The warm feeling wasn't lasting. A bullpen collapse spread among three relievers allowed the New York Yankees to overcome a four-run Orioles lead and steal a 5-4 win on John Parrish's bases-loaded walk to Bernie Williams in the 10th inning.

Instead of their first three-game sweep of the season, the Orioles wasted 6 2/3 solid innings from Johnson along with a home run and three RBIs from Ripken. Instead of constructing their longest winning streak of the second half, the Orioles were sent to their 90th loss for the first time since 1991.

While Parrish (1-2) took the loss, rookie Willis Roberts suffered his second blown save of the series by allowing a leadoff walk to become a tying run in the ninth.

After taking a 4-0 lead against Yankees starter Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, the Orioles were held hitless by three relievers for the final three innings.

The Yankees won after a leadoff single, a sacrifice, a walk and a generously scored infield single loaded the bases for Williams, who walked when Parrish's 3-2 pitch missed wide and high. Before it was done, the loss offered seven mound visits by manager Mike Hargrove and pitching coach Mark Wiley and another, hopefully temporary, setback in the team's four-year search for a closer.

"You have to put [Roberts] in these situations. He's going to learn," Hargrove said. `We have to realize he's still a very young pitcher. Pitching as a closer as a young pitcher is a very difficult proposition. We still believe in him. He's got good stuff. We think he can do the job. He'll get the chance to do that."

The Orioles love Roberts' arm but have long wondered about the consistency of his approach. Last night, after Friday's traumatic surrender of a 5-3 lead on two ninth-inning home runs, Roberts appeared less forceful with his fastball. The result was a lack of command.

"I didn't see as aggressive a guy as last time," Hargrove said. "As a closer, you've got to have that aggressive mentality. He has it. He just has to learn to have it consistently ... to not let his previous outing dictate his pitches the next time out."

Converted from the rotation to the bullpen on Aug. 3, Roberts impressed in his early opportunities. Confronting the three-time world champions offers a more severe challenge.

"My job is to save games. That's all," said Roberts, who has converted five of nine save chances. "Tonight, I didn't get the save. I want to win. I only want to do my job."

The Orioles could have switched from a 10-game losing streak to perhaps their most invigorating stretch since they were a .500 team.

When Ripken and Robinson shared the pre-game stage to autograph nine bases that will be auctioned off over the final eight home games, the night was prepped for something special.

After lining out in the second inning and producing a sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead in the fourth, Ripken perfectly worked a script written months ago. He stepped to the plate for the third time with one on and two outs in the fifth inning as the theme from The Natural enveloped a standing crowd. Ripken swung at Hernandez's first pitch, setting off a flurry of flashbulbs while turning around a misplaced fastball that bore its way into the left-field bleachers.

"I'm trying to relax the best I can," Ripken said. "It's an exciting time. It's starting to become a pretty emotional time. Time is winding down and the reality of the end is much clearer. I'm enjoying it, having fun. It's a great atmosphere to be playing in."

If not for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, yesterday would have represented the final home game of Ripken's career. Ripken still used yesterday to perform double duty as third baseman after serving as yesterday afternoon's grand marshal for a NASCAR race in his name at Dover (Del.) Downs International Speedway.

Johnson befuddled the Yankees early, striking out six his first time through the order as he used a sharp-breaking curve missing for much of the past month. Challenged in the fourth inning, he escaped a bases-loaded mess with one out by inducing back-to-back ground balls from Johnson and Orioles-beater Scott Brosius. Pitch efficiency eventually betrayed Johnson. Hargrove pulled him after 120 pitches with two outs and a runner on because of an infield error.

The Yankees rallied to within 4-3 in the eighth by bunching three hits against left-hander Buddy Groom. Nick Johnson accounted for the Yankees' first three RBIs with a sixth-inning home run and a two-run double off Groom in the eighth.

Appearing two days after allowing a two-run lead to evaporate in the ninth inning of the series opener, Roberts squandered the lead after walking Alfonso Soriano to lead off the inning. Pinch hitter Tino Martinez advanced Soriano to third on a perfectly placed hit-and-run single through second base, and Williams delivered Soriano on a sacrifice fly that brought down boos on the rookie reliever. Roberts finally escaped a 33-pitch inning by striking out Shane Spencer with the go-ahead run at second base.

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