Extra out lets Indians do in O's in 9th, 6-5

2-out Batista error opens door to 4 unearned runs as Lawton HR foils Julio

Blown 4-0 lead second in 3 games

Erickson goes solid six

Hargrove backs his closer

May 15, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND - Twenty minutes after it was over last night, Orioles closer Jorge Julio still had the beads of sweat running down his forehead.

If Saturday night's ninth-inning loss at Tampa Bay was painful, this one was cruel and unusual for a 23-year-old less than seven weeks into an otherwise promising closing career.

Matt Lawton hit a two-run homer, capping an improbable four-run rally that gave the Cleveland Indians a 6-5 victory on a chilly night at Jacobs Field.

All four of the Indians' ninth-inning runs came with two outs, all of them were unearned after the Orioles committed their first error in nine games, and all the big hits came with two strikes.

"These things happen in baseball," said a somber Julio (2-2), who was on the mound for Randy Winn's walk-off, two-out home run in Saturday's 6-4 loss at Tampa Bay. "Every time it's 26 outs. It's never 27 outs. That's baseball."

The Orioles took a 5-2 lead into the ninth and turned the game over to Julio, who has converted seven of his 10 save opportunities this season and took an 0.96 ERA into Saturday.

Julio quickly retired the first two batters, striking out former Oriole Brady Anderson and fielding a grounder to get Einar Diaz for the second out.

When Jolbert Cabrera hit a chopper down the third base line, and Tony Batista fielded it cleanly on his backhand side, it looked like the Orioles had broken their two-game losing streak and extended the Indians' losing streak to four.

But Batista, whose 10th homer of the season gave the Orioles a 4-0 lead in the third inning, didn't get enough on the throw. It bounced in the dirt, skipping by first baseman Jeff Conine.

"I made an error," Batista said, "a bad throw."

The Orioles have committed 19 errors for the season, fewest in the American League. Batista didn't have an error for the first 25 games, but now he leads the club with four.

This one seemed benign at first, but then Omar Vizquel doubled, Ricky Gutierrez singled and Lawton hit his eighth home run - all with two strikes.

"This," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said, "is a tough one for all of us to take."

"There wasn't a whole lot we could do about the one in Tampa," Hargrove added, referring to the infield hits that preceded Winn's home run. "I thought we had this one in the bag, and we let it slip away."

Julio said the 2-2 pitch to Lawton was "a fastball, a little up. It's a good swing for him, so game over."

The Orioles went to great lengths to make sure Julio's psyche was OK after Saturday's blown save. That time, he took a 4-2 lead into the ninth inning, only to see the Devil Rays rally to snap a 15-game losing streak, the longest in the majors since the Orioles lost 21 straight to start the 1988 season.

Hargrove said he would probably wait until today before giving Julio another pep talk.

"I don't know that I have any power for it not to affect him," Hargrove said. "That's part of growing up, that's part of developing, that's part of maturing.

"I think Jorge will get through this. It's going to be a battle for him, but he'll get through this. He's got good stuff. He throws strikes, and he seems to have a level head.

"If we have another situation [tonight], we'll give it to him," Hargrove added. "I think that's probably the most important thing we can do."

Julio, whose ERA actually dropped from 2.79 to 2.70, said he welcomes the challenge.

"Everything's 100 percent," he said. "I feel good. I'm ready to go [tonight]."

Orioles starter Scott Erickson was in line for his first victory in eight career starts at Jacobs Field, where he is 0-6 with a 7.40 ERA.

Erickson held Cleveland to two runs in six innings, making his first start since May 8, when he left after two-plus innings with a slightly strained right groin. In an encouraging sign, Erickson's velocity actually seemed to increase in the later innings, as his fastball readings went from about 88 mph to as high as 91 mph in the sixth.

The Orioles blew a 4-0 lead after blowing leads of 4-0 and 3-0 in losing the final two games at Tampa Bay this past weekend. After the second inning, the Orioles went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. Jay Gibbons finally gave them an insurance run with a ninth-inning sacrifice fly, but Julio couldn't make the lead stand.

"[Today], if he gets the chance he's going to be ready," Batista said. "And we're going to win."

Orioles tonight

Opponent:Cleveland Indians

Site:Jacobs Field, Cleveland

Time:7:05

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Rodrigo Lopez (5-0, 2.31) vs. Indians' Bartolo Colon (4-3, 3.00)

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