O's give it away to White Sox on 3 errors in ninth

Flurry of mistakes halts fifth attempt of reaching .500 since mid-May, 8-7

July 22, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Reaching the .500 mark in July is not the Holy Grail, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said yesterday, somewhat exasperated after his team blew four leads and played a ninth inning that looked like something out of a Monty Python sketch.

The Orioles made three errors in the ninth, including two by center fielder Chris Singleton on the same play, allowing the Chicago White Sox to rally for an 8-7 victory before 35,337 at Camden Yards.

Besides missing out on a three-game sweep, the Orioles (47-49) also missed the chance to reach .500 for the fifth time since May 11. It was the fifth time since May 14 the Orioles have had that opportunity, and the fifth time they've failed.

"We've got a lot of baseball left to play," Hargrove said. "It all matters where we're at come the end of the season."

The Orioles knew yesterday would be difficult after using seven pitchers in Saturday night's 4-3 victory in 14 innings. But powered by four home runs, including two by Jay Gibbons, the Orioles came back to take a 7-6 lead into the ninth.

"Then," Hargrove said, "it just came unglued."

Orioles closer Jorge Julio had pitched in two straight games, including two scoreless innings Saturday, and Hargrove was saving Julio for one or two batters, at most.

So Willis Roberts, who pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, went back to the mound for the ninth, and Tony Graffanino started the inning with a single to center. Mark Johnson followed with a bunt, which Roberts fielded in front of the mound and wisely threw to second base. But his throw was wide left, and second base umpire Doug Eddings ruled that it pulled the foot of shortstop Luis Lopez off the bag.

"He was out," Lopez said. "Believe me, he was out."

Roberts was charged with an error, and Hargrove replaced him with Buddy Groom, who was pitching in his third straight game but had needed only seven pitches to get through one inning Saturday.

The Orioles seemed to catch a break when Kenny Lofton popped up a bunt that Groom caught between the mound and third base. After seeing the runners freeze, Groom later kicked himself, saying, "If I let the ball drop, it might be a triple play."

Because the infield fly rule - the batter is automatically out, runners advance at their own risk - doesn't apply to bunts, Groom was referring to the kind of play the Orioles practice in spring training but might not see all season.

Turns out, the Orioles saw another one of those plays right away.

With one out, and runners at first and second, Ray Durham lined a single to center. Singleton charged the ball, thinking a good throw to home plate might get Graffanino. But Singleton dropped the ball on the exchange from his glove to his left hand.

In the third inning, Singleton cut that hand on a slide into second base. Before the ninth, Hargrove used Luis Matos as a defensive replacement for Howie Clark in left field. Melvin Mora, who has started 16 games in center this season, missed yesterday's game because of personal reasons.

Singleton later downplayed the injury. "It was just a bad exchange," he said.

Graffanino scored, and Johnson advanced to third on the single. When Singleton dropped the ball, Durham realized the Orioles had no one covering second base. First baseman Jay Gibbons, who was near the mound as the home plate cutoff man, ran to cover second, but Singleton's throw was high and went off Gibbons' glove, rolling toward the mound.

That second error allowed Johnson to score the winning run.

"It's one of those things where a bad play gets worse," Singleton said. "It gets ugly."

After the game, it was still somewhat of a mystery as to who should have been covering second base. Lopez was the cutoff man for a throw to third, and second baseman Jerry Hairston followed the playbook by going to first base, for a potential throw behind Durham.

Hairston said he probably should have improvised and gone to second. That is something veteran shortstop Mike Bordick probably would have done had he not been injured, Hairston said.

"People don't realize the things Bordy brings to the table," Hairston said. "Defensively, there's no one better."

Orioles tonight

Opponent:Toronto Blue Jays

Site:Camden Yards


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

Starters:Blue Jays' Roy Halladay (11-4, 2.78) vs. Orioles' Jason Johnson (3-7, 4.03)

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