Anguish grows as O's fall, 3-2

Hairston strands 5, O's give Tampa 3 errors in `humbling' 6th loss in row

April 11, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Orioles lost their sixth game in a row last night, and this one might have been more painful than the other five combined.

Leadoff hitter Jerry Hairston stranded five men on base in his final two at-bats, including the game-ending pop-up with runners on second and third, which preserved a 3-2 victory for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

The crowd of 22,781 was the smallest for a regularly scheduled game in the 10-year history of Camden Yards. The ballpark's all-time low of 21,748 was set June 20, 1996, for a makeup game against the Texas Rangers.

Fans are staying away in droves, and the Orioles aren't giving them many reasons to change their minds. In these six consecutive losses, the club has scored a whopping six runs on 28 hits.

After a long shower, Hairston emerged by his locker and said, "This loss, I'm not going to lie, it hurt. It really hurt."

Starting pitcher Jason Johnson (0-2) left with the Orioles trailing 2-1 in the sixth inning. Later, he summed up his command problems this way: "Usually I might miss by inches. Tonight I was missing by feet."

On a night when the pitching was shaky and the hitting remained abysmal, the Orioles' defense abandoned them, too. After making two errors in the season's first six games, they made three in a span of four innings.

"Up until the eighth inning, we played a very sloppy game tonight," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "We didn't pitch well, we didn't swing the bats particularly well, and we didn't catch the ball well.

"But we stayed with it. To the players' credit, they stayed with it."

The Orioles entered the ninth inning trailing by two runs, but Jay Gibbons hit the first pitch against Devil Rays closer Esteban Yan over the center-field fence. It was Gibbons' second homer of the season, and it traveled an estimated 425 feet.

With new life, the Orioles kept pushing. Tony Batista singled, Melvin Mora walked, and he and pinch runner Luis Garcia advanced to second and third on a sacrifice bunt by pinch hitter Gary Matthews Jr.

But staring right at defeat, Yan managed to earn his first save of the season. He struck out Mike Bordick with a 96-mph fastball and then got Hairston to fly to shallow left field.

"If you would have told me the start of the season would be like this, I wouldn't have believed it," Hairston said. "This game humbles you."

Devil Rays starter Paul Wilson (1-0) earned the victory after holding the Orioles to one run on four hits over seven innings.

In the first, it looked like the Orioles might break out of their early-season offensive funk. Hairston led off with a double, marking the first time this season he's reached base to start a game.

In Hairston's six other first-inning at-bats, he has flied out to left field four times, grounded to third once and struck out. Much like in spring training, the Orioles are a much better team when he reaches base, and that played itself out the rest of the inning.

Chris Singleton moved Hairston to third with a slow grounder to second base, and David Segui scored Hairston with a sacrifice fly to left.

Pitching with an early lead, Johnson wasn't nearly as sharp as he was one week earlier, when he took a tough-luck, 1-0 loss against the New York Yankees and David Wells.

The Devil Rays scored two runs in the fifth inning, as Jason Tyner and Randy Winn each had RBI singles. Tyner advanced all the way to third on his single, as Gibbons' throw from right field sailed to the backstop, in part because Johnson failed to back up home plate.

"He said he did lose his focus for a little bit," Hargrove said of Johnson. "It was obvious."

Johnson allowed eight hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings. He left with runners on second and third in the sixth, and Bobby Smith hit a run-scoring single off Orioles reliever Chris Brock to make it 3-1.

"A pitcher has 35 starts [per season]," Hargrove said. "Five of them are going to be absolutely terrible, and five of them are going to be absolutely brilliant. It's what you do with the other 25 that counts. This was one of Jason's five."

Said Johnson: "Hopefully this is the only one I'll have because it wasn't fun out there tonight."

Orioles tonight

Opponent:Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site:Camden Yards

Time:7:05

TV/Radio:CSN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters:Devil Rays' Joe Kennedy (0-1, 7.20) vs. Orioles' Sidney Ponson (0-1, 6.00)

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