No Ray of light in O's 4-0 loss

Vaughn's awakened bat puts O's to sleep, which raises the ire of Hargrove

May 20, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Losing a series to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays is baseball's equivalent to being defeated by the Cincinnati Bengals in football or getting skunked by a younger sibling in cribbage.

It rarely happens to anybody, and when it does, faces turn red and garbage cans get tipped over.

So imagine how the Orioles felt yesterday, when they dropped their second series to the Devil Rays in a span of 10 days.

Imagine how they felt when strikeout machine Greg Vaughn hit two more home runs, and two pitchers they barely knew combined on a five-hitter as the Devil Rays blanked the Orioles, 4-0, before 37,590 at Camden Yards.

Orioles manager Mike Hargrove felt frustrated enough to call his team together for a rare post-game meeting. Players said he told them they better get their act together mentally before tomorrow, when they begin a 19-game stretch against Oakland, Seattle, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles.

"It's his job to let us have it when it's time, and this was one of those times," outfielder Gary Matthews said. "We've got some tough teams coming up, and you've got to be tough mentally to play those teams."

The Orioles have lost eight of their past 11 games, and all of those came against Tampa Bay and Cleveland.

Adding to the disappointment, four of those losses were decided after the seventh inning, including another one fueled by closer Jorge Julio on Saturday night. But Hargrove disputed the theory that the emotional toll from those games caught up to his team, as it was blanked for the fifth time this season.

"There was just no energy, and no energy from anybody today," Hargrove said. "It's particularly frustrating when there's not the spark there usually is with this club, which has been there since the beginning of spring training.

"And you run into things like that for no particular reason."

The Devil Rays hadn't won a road series all season. After losing Friday night, they won Saturday night's game on Vaughn's two-run homer in the ninth inning, and yesterday's win gave them the lead in their all-time series with the Orioles, 34-33.

How mystifying was yesterday's loss? Count the ways:

Devil Rays starter Travis Harper (1-1) held the Orioles to four hits in five innings in his second major-league start. Earlier this season, Harper posted a 6.98 ERA - at Triple-A Durham.

Steve Kent, a Rule 5 draft pick who has to stay on the major-league roster, pitched the final four innings for his first major league save. The Orioles had one hit off Kent and didn't hit a ball out of the infield against him until Mike Bordick singled with two outs in the ninth.

The Orioles went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, and finished the series batting 4-for-26 in those situations. Summing up their plight, Melvin Mora and Chris Singleton singled to start the first inning but never advanced, as Harper retired Jeff Conine, Jay Gibbons and Tony Batista.

Vaughn hit a two-run homer off Scott Erickson (3-4) in the fourth inning and a bases-empty shot off Willis Roberts in the eighth. That gave Vaughn four home runs in two nights after he came into Saturday batting .107, the lowest of any regular in the majors.

Vaughn also struck out twice yesterday, giving him 50 strikeouts for the season. At this pace, he'll finish with 193 whiffs and break the major-league record for strikeouts set by Bobby Bonds (190) in 1970.

"You get the ball down on him, and he doesn't hit the ball - doesn't hit it out of the ballpark at least," Hargrove said. "And we just didn't do that."

Hargrove said he didn't want to comment on what he told the players after the game, but his other comments offered a pretty good clue.

"We were flat today," he said, "and that's one of the first times all year that we've been mentally flat. And one time is one time too many because you can control the mental side of the game. There's a lot in this game you cannot control physically. Mentally you can control that, and today we were flat."

Erickson held the Devil Rays to three runs on six hits over 6 1/3 innings. In his four losses this season, the Orioles have combined to score eight runs.

The Orioles don't play Tampa Bay again until July 29, and while most teams would miss the Devil Rays, the Orioles look like they could use some time to regroup.

"We were playing good baseball there for a while, got up to .500, and now we've kind of retreated a couple steps," Erickson said. "It doesn't matter who you're playing. If you go out and play good baseball, you have a chance to win. We're not going to win any games if we play like we did today."

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