Orioles rally, then go down looking, 8-7

Last two batters vs. Rays are called out on strikes, ending three-game streak

Four-run ninth goes for naught

Lopez falls to 0-3, allows seven runs in 5 1/3 innings

O's top 5 batters 11-for-20

April 20, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

The Orioles left the field in a huff yesterday, with members of the bench screaming at plate umpire Mike Winters after a furious ninth-inning rally had stopped one run short against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Down by five runs to start the ninth, the Orioles pulled to within one and had a runner on first with no out. But Jay Gibbons flied to center, and Winters rang up Tony Batista and Marty Cordova on called third strikes - ending the game and the Orioles' three-game winning streak.

Though no one said so publicly, the Orioles were livid about those last two calls, but as the dust began to settle on this 8-7 loss before 33,870 at Camden Yards, they felt a little better about bringing the game to such a boiling point.

Especially considering how much went wrong along the way.

Opening Day starter Rodrigo Lopez (0-3) took another pounding, giving up seven runs in 5 1/3 innings. That left him winless in four starts and staring at an ugly 7.66 ERA.

For Lopez, who was named the team's Most Valuable Player last season, this is not the way the Orioles expected him to start the season.

"It's tough," Lopez said. "It doesn't matter what kind of year you had the year before. Things are not going the way I want to. I'm trying to do my best, and the good thing is, I'm healthy. I just have to go ahead and try to make adjustments."

Tampa Bay took a 3-0 lead on home runs by George Lombard and Aubrey Huff, and with the Orioles managing little offense against Devil Rays starter Jorge Sosa (1-1), Lopez was trying to keep the game within striking distance in the sixth inning when he committed a pair of costly defensive lapses.

Lopez loaded the bases by walking Al Martin on a 3-2 pitch - another close call by Winters the Orioles later mentioned in private - and then Damion Easley hit a potential inning-ending double-play ball. But the ball bounced in front of the mound, and Lopez instinctively reached for it, deflecting it on a slow roll toward shortstop.

"I just wanted to grab the ball and get out of the inning," Lopez said. "It had a lot of spin on it, and it was hard to catch. In that situation I should probably let it go, but it's going to happen."

One run scored on the play, and Marlon Anderson followed with a tricky bouncer between first and second. With first baseman Jeff Conine and Jerry Hairston both going for the ball, Lopez froze before dashing to first, and by the time Hairston flipped him the ball, Anderson had won the race to the base.

"If we don't give them three extra outs in the inning they scored four runs," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, "it would have been a good outing [for Lopez]."

And it might have been a different outcome.

Hargrove pulled Lopez with the bases loaded, and Javier Valentin drilled Willis Roberts' first pitch for a two-run single that stretched Tampa Bay's lead to 7-0. Roberts has inherited five runners this season, and four of them have scored.

Earlier, the Orioles squandered a brilliant scoring opportunity. They had the bases loaded with one out in the fourth inning when Sosa got Gibbons to bounce into an inning-ending double play.

In the sixth, B.J. Surhoff hit a two-run homer, his first since rejoining the club, and the Orioles put runners on second and third with one out. That rally ended when Batista fouled to third and Cordova flied to right.

Take away Batista and Cordova, who combined to go 0-for-9, and it was a productive day offensively for the Orioles. The lineup's top five hitters went 11-for-20. Surhoff had four RBIs and three hits, which raised his average from .191 to .235.

"It was a step in the right direction for me," Surhoff said.

Rookie shortstop Jose Morban led off the ninth with a pinch-hit home run against reliever Al Levine. It was Morban's first major league hit and came in his second major league at-bat.

Hairston, who had three hits and reached base four times, doubled. Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella inserted closer Lance Carter, and then Gary Matthews and Surhoff each followed with run-scoring doubles.

The hits came in a flurry, each coming early in the count. Jeff Conine scored Surhoff with a single to right, and clapped his hands after rounding first base, with the lead trimmed to one.

On a sun-splashed afternoon, the crowd rose to its feet. But Carter hung on, as Batista took two called strikes, and Cordova took three, going down without a swing.

"[Carter] threw some good pitches," Hargrove said, gritting his teeth. "You can't tell from where we're sitting whether they're on the plate, but he got the calls he needed."

Orioles today

Opponent:Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site:Camden Yards

Time:1:35 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters:Devil Rays' Nick Bierbrodt (0-1, 11.77) vs. Orioles' Omar Daal (0-2, 8.04)

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