Rays top O's with two-run 10th, 8-7

5-run first isn't enough

Groom yields last run without warming in 'pen

April 09, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Orioles manager Mike Hargrove knew he was in trouble last night the moment his foot touched the dirt.

A bizarre game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays had just turned controversial, and there Hargrove was, stuck in the middle. Suddenly, the Orioles' early six-run lead seemed like a memory, and so did Geronimo Gil's home run in the top of the 10th inning.

When Hargrove took that step into the dirt circle, the umpires counted it as the Orioles' second mound visit and made him remove closer Jorge Julio. So Buddy Groom, who hadn't thrown one warm-up pitch, was forced into a tie game with one out and the bases loaded.

The next batter, Travis Lee, hit a ball off Groom's glove, scoring Carl Crawford from third base with the game-winner, as the Devil Rays pulled out a stunning, 8-7 victory before 9,723 at Tropicana Field.

"The sad thing is," Hargrove said, "the way our night went tonight, if Buddy wouldn't have knocked that ball down with his glove, one of our middle guys would have caught it. But that's the way it goes."

At 2-5, the Orioles had a hard time imagining a more devastating loss this early in the season. It came after they had led 5-0 in the first inning, 6-0 in the fourth inning and 7-6 in the 10th. It came with another blown save by closer Julio. It came against the lowly Devil Rays, who evened their all-time record against the Orioles at 38-38.

And it came with a mental mistake by Hargrove, a man fighting for his job in the final year of his contract.

"When you get into the heat of the moment, it's always difficult sometimes to keep track of mound visits," Hargrove said. "But that's fairly basic."

The sequence happened pretty fast. Julio, who blew his only other save opportunity of the season on Saturday, started the 10th inning, and Ben Grieve hit a leadoff double. That ball bounced high off the left-field wall, missing a game-tying home run by about two feet.

Crawford, Tampa Bay's speedy leadoff hitter, followed with a grounder to shortstop Deivi Cruz's right. Cruz got to the ball, but Crawford beat his throw to first base for an infield single.

At that point, Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley made a visit to Julio - the visit Hargrove would later forget.

Devil Rays rookie Rocco Baldelli advanced both runners with a sacrifice bunt, and Julio loaded the bases with an intentional walk to Aubrey Huff. So it was bases loaded, one out, and the Orioles still led, 7-6.

Julio got Marlon Anderson to hit what could have been a game-ending double-play ball. But Orioles second baseman Jerry Hairston bobbled it, before throwing to second. Cruz came off the bag to catch the throw, and Hairston was sure they had the second out, but second base umpire Joe West called the runner safe.

Grieve scored the tying run on the play.

"Never," Hairston said when asked if he had seen an umpire make that call before. "And I've been on this earth 26 years."

Hargrove went out to argue with West. They were out near second base for several moments, and then Hargrove went toward the mound.

With the bases still loaded, Hargrove wanted a special alignment for his defense. He wanted left fielder B.J. Surhoff positioned near shortstop and Cruz stationed directly up the middle.

That's when Hargrove took his step onto the dirt.

"It totally shocked me that the runner was not called out at second base," Hargrove said. "I didn't see him come off the bag. I went out to talk to Joe [West], and I went out to bring the extra outfielder in. I couldn't remember if Mark [Wiley] had been out there or not.

"It was important setting the defense up. I didn't go over there to take the pitcher out, and then when I stepped onto the dirt, it crossed my mind that Mark had already been out there."

Baseball rules restrict teams to one visit per pitcher. On the second visit, teams are forced to make a change.

Groom, the fifth reliever after starter Omar Daal allowed four runs in five innings, got up and threw one warm-up pitch in the bullpen. He ran to the mound and warmed-up some more. Home plate umpire Bill Miller let Groom take more than the usual eight warm-up pitches.

"Actually," Groom said, "I felt fine when the hitter stepped up there. I had 12 to 15 pitches."

Lee hit the ball off Groom's glove for his fourth hit of the game. Surhoff made a desperate attempt to get the ball, but it came in vain.

"It happened so fast it was a blur," Lee said. "I'm just glad it's over and we got the victory."

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