O's let lead slip again vs. Rays

Young Tampa rises, 10-7, as 4-0, 7-3 bulges vanish

Batista's two homers wasted

2-6 Orioles fall deeper in cellar

sweep possible

April 10, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - If the past two nights were any indication, the Orioles better get used to last place. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have found a new gear, and they're racing out of the American League East basement with blinding speed.

The Orioles squandered two more leads last night. They wasted two home runs from Tony Batista and watched Rick Helling labor through five innings. Then, in perhaps the biggest indication of the changing times, the Orioles spoke about the new-look Devil Rays with nothing but respect.

The Orioles haven't finished a season in last place since 1988, but the Devil Rays seem intent on keeping them there, as they proved again with a 10-7 victory at Tropicana Field.

Marlon Anderson and Aubrey Huff combined for seven RBIs, and Al Levine pitched 2 2/3 innings of perfect relief in his Tampa Bay debut, as the Devil Rays took the lead in their all-time series with the Orioles, 39-38.

"It's a completely different team," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said of the Devil Rays, who have finished in fifth place, one spot behind the Orioles, every season since joining the league in 1998. "They have the two kids [Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli] that just fly, absolutely fly. It makes a huge difference. That's a much better ballclub this year than last year."

The Orioles will send Sidney Ponson to the mound today, opposite right-hander Steve Parris, trying to avoid their first three-game sweep at Tampa Bay since 1999.

This has already been a series to forget for the Orioles. On Tuesday night, they blew leads of 6-0 and 7-6 before succumbing in 10 innings, 8-7.

Last night, they blew a 4-0 lead and then a 7-4 lead before Tampa Bay put together enough offense to put them out of their misery.

This time, with the score tied 7-7 in the seventh, Tampa Bay took the lead for good on Baldelli's run-scoring triple off Orioles reliever Willis Roberts (0-1).

On that play, the Orioles made a nice relay from center fielder Melvin Mora to shortstop Deivi Cruz to Batista, the third baseman. But by that time Baldelli was standing on third base, picking his teeth.

While the Orioles' offense has awoken from its slumber over the season-opening six-game homestand, the pitching suddenly looks atrocious.

Either that or Tampa Bay's offense is just that much improved.

"When we score seven runs, with our pitching staff, we should win," Hargrove said. "The strength of our club coming out of spring training was our pitching staff, and we still feel that way."

After pitching well in his first start for the Orioles, Helling was shaky this time, allowing seven runs (six earned) on seven hits over five innings.

Hargrove said he thought Helling was hurt by several close pitches that home plate umpire Paul Emmel called balls instead of strikes.

Helling acknowledged as much, but added, "This is a game of results, and the results weren't there. These guys got me two good leads, and I didn't hold either one of them."

Leading 4-0, Helling gave up a three-run homer to Anderson in the second inning. The Devil Rays capitalized on a passed ball by Geronimo Gil to tie the score in the fourth.

In the fifth, Crawford caused Helling's jaw to drop when he hit a chopper to Batista and beat the throw to first base for an infield single.

"That's a routine out for probably 99 percent of the players in the big leagues," Helling said. "But he's so fast, Tony had to come in and hurry it, and he didn't get it in his glove."

Crawford and Baldelli have each hit in the first nine games this season.

Together, they are batting .348. And here's the scary thing for the Orioles: both of them are 21 years old.

With two more infield hits, the Devil Rays now have 20 for the season, tops in the majors.

"You can't teach speed, and it puts pressure on the defense, there's no question about it," Helling said. "You have to give both of those guys [Crawford and Baldelli] credit because they realize what they have."

Orioles today

Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Time: 12:15 p.m.

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Sidney Ponson (0-1, 19.29) vs. Devil Rays' Steve Parris (0-1, 5.40)

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