Leading O's lose again to Rays

O's four-run bulge fades as Helling hit hard, 10-7

Batista's two homers wasted

Orioles' hold on last place grows with sweep possible

April 10, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Orioles squandered two more leads last night. They wasted two home runs from Tony Batista and watched Rick Helling labor through five innings against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

If this keeps up, the Orioles better get used to last place.

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

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

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 Rocco Baldelli's run-scoring triple off Orioles reliever Willis Roberts (0-1).

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

Either that or Tampa Bay has become an offensive force with which to be reckoned.

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.

For the Orioles, the emotions from Tuesday's loss started spilling into last night. First base umpire Joe West, who was at the center of a 10th-inning dispute with Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, ejected David Segui for arguing a first-inning strike call.

With a runner on third base and one out, Segui thought he had checked his swing, and the replays seemed to support him. But West ruled that Segui had indeed swung for strike three.

Segui began yelling at West, and once he was ejected, he walked toward him with the bat still in his hand, before being restrained by first base coach Rick Dempsey.

The Orioles have a history of disagreeing with West. On July 20 last season, he ejected second baseman Jerry Hairston after a heated exchange. Then, during spring training, Hairston challenged West for calling a runner safe on a pickoff play at second base when Hairston was sure he had applied the tag.

On Tuesday, West was the one who called Huff safe at second base in the 10th inning, when Orioles shortstop Deivi Cruz came off the bag to field the throw from Hairston. Umpires commonly give shortstops the benefit of the doubt on that play, and Hargrove argued with West before making an inadvertent trip to the pitcher's mound.

This time, with Segui ejected, Hargrove had a calm conversation with West before retreating to the dugout. At that point, the Orioles needed calm.

Hargrove had started the game with Gary Matthews on the bench, but when Segui's turn came in the second inning, Matthews delivered a two-run, pinch-hit double. Three batters later, Batista hit a two-run homer, and the Orioles led 4-0.

The Orioles squandered a 6-0 lead on Tuesday, and this one didn't last long either. In the bottom of the second, Anderson hit a three-run homer off Helling, and the Devil Rays capitalized on a passed ball by Geronimo Gil to tie the score in the fourth.

Matthews and Jay Gibbons doubled in the fifth inning, and then Batista hit another two- run homer, as the Orioles took a 7-4 lead.

For Batista, it was the 10th multi-home run game of his career and his first since April 27 at Kansas City.

But the Devil Rays came right back against Helling, scoring three runs in the bottom of the fifth to tie the score again. Tampa Bay strung together four consecutive hits in the inning, as Baldelli had a run-scoring single, and Huff tied it with a two- run double.

NOTES: Devil Rays starters have given up 44 earned runs in 42 1-3 innings. ... Tampa Bay placed left-hander Jim Parque on the 15-day disabled list with tendinitis in his left shoulder. ... Anderson's previous homer came last Aug. 25. ... Baldelli has a hit in all nine games of his rookie season.

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