ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Last May, the Orioles lost a game in Cleveland that manager Mike Hargrove called his toughest loss since Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. Tuesday night's 8-7 loss against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays ranked right up there, too.
"It was tough because it's early in the season and we're trying to get something going." Hargrove said yesterday. "It was tough because, up until last night, we pitched well. It was tough for a lot of reasons."
Jorge Julio, the Orioles' young closer, was a central figure in both of these tough Orioles losses. On May 14, he squandered a three-run lead in the ninth, and Cleveland's Matt Lawton won it with a three-run, walk-off home run.
On Tuesday, Julio blew a one- run lead, but the game will probably be remembered best for Hargrove's blunder in the 10th inning. Hargrove went to the pitcher's mound, forgetting pitching coach Mark Wiley had already been there once that inning.
As a result, Hargrove had to pull Julio from the game and insert Buddy Groom, who had thrown no warm-up pitches to that point. Tampa Bay won when Travis Lee singled off Groom's glove. That was the Devil Rays" fifth infield hit of the night.
Hargrove was still smarting yesterday, but a hundred little things had to happen for him to even be placed in that situation. The Orioles blew an early 6-0 lead. They failed to put the game away after putting runners at the corners with no outs in the ninth.
Geronimo Gil put the Orioles back ahead with a 10th-inning homer, and then second baseman Jerry Hairston bobbled a potential game-ending double- play ball. He fired to shortstop Deivi Cruz for what would have been the second out, but Cruz came off the base to catch the ball and umpire Joe West ruled the runner safe.
Hargrove went out to argue with West, to no avail. At that point, Hargrove wanted to pull left fielder B.J. Surhoff into the infield, and in doing so, he stepped onto the mound.
"Obviously I wish I hadn't done it." Hargrove said yesterday. "The second I stepped on the dirt, I thought, "Oh, I wish I hadn't done this." That doesn't excuse it. I still made a mistake."
Adding salt to the wound, the official scorer changed his decision and gave Cruz an error on that play in the 10th inning. The play was originally called a simple fielder's choice.
It was Cruz's first error as an Oriole, counting 20 spring training games. A year ago, Mike Bordick made just one error at shortstop for the Orioles, but he was never the victim of such a tough scoring decision.
Matthews sits, for inning
Hargrove did not put Gary Matthews in his starting lineup last night, starting Melvin Mora in center field. Matthews replaced David Segui as the designated hitter after Segui was ejected in the first inning.
Before going 2-for-4 last night with two doubles, Matthews was batting .176, with six hits in his first 34 at-bats. He started the first seven games in center and batted second each time.
Mora, who went 0-for-3, had started just three of the first seven games.
"Just a day off [for Matthews]," Hargrove said. "I don't want Melvin just sitting."
Finger bothers Julio
Julio has a small cut on the in side of his right index finger, which affects him most when he throws his slider, and this might help explain his early struggles.
After converting 25 of 31 save opportunities last season and posting a 1.99 ERA, he blew his first two save chances this year and has a 6.23 ERA.
Julio said he did not feel 100 percent on Tuesday night because of the finger, but came back yesterday saying he was ready to pitch. "It's OK." he said.
Orioles reliever Willis Roberts has been bothered by soreness near his right shoulder, in the lateral muscle. Hargrove said Roberts was not available for the previous four games, but he entered last night in the sixth inning and took the loss, allowing two runs in 1M-- innings.
Roberts said he first started feeling the soreness in that area on March 29 at an exhibition game at Shea Stadium.
"Right now, I'm fine." Roberts said before the game.
Around the horn
Devil Rays starters have given up 44 earned runs in 42M-- innings. ... Tampa Bay placed left- hander Jim Parque on the 15-day disabled list with tendinitis in his left shoulder. ... Rocco Baldelli has a hit in all nine games of his rookie season.