O's blow lead in 10-7 loss to Rays

Early 5-0 edge slips away as Helling is roughed up

team falls below .500 mark

April 27, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Mike Hargrove rushed back for this? With their manager returning to the dugout last night, the Orioles blew an early five-run lead while looking almost as bad as the facility they played in, and lost to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 10-7, at Tropicana Field.

A crowd of 13,408 watched them slip below .500 and come within a game of being swept before heading to Detroit. Any momentum generated the past week has broken apart. It's always hard to accept that the Devil Rays are holding the pieces.

In two games here earlier in the month, the Orioles were ahead 4-0 and 6-0 in the second inning but didn't win.

"Usually at our place, you get a 5-0 lead and feel comfortable," Jerry Hairston said. "But in this place, something crazy always seems to happen."

As games are played and ground is lost or gained in the standings, the Orioles continue to undergo an interesting transformation since Opening Day.

Hargrove, who missed the previous six games to be with his ailing mother in Texas, conceded that the club no longer possesses a definitive No. 1 catcher. Brook Fordyce started for the fifth time in a week, another sign that Hargrove prefers his pitch selection and steadying influence over the rotation.

Four of Fordyce's starts came while bench coach Sam Perlozzo ran the team, but Hargrove had final say in all decisions.

"There's not a lineup on the field that I didn't put on the field," he said. "As far as the catching situation, that was a work in progress for a while. We just decided to go ahead and do it."

Fordyce doubled in the fourth inning and lifted a sacrifice fly in the sixth. He remains the only Oriole from the Opening Day roster who hasn't scored a run.

Larry Bigbie also stayed in the lineup as the left fielder and singled twice while B.J. Surhoff served as the designated hitter. Hargrove intended to speak with Surhoff informally about the arrangement.

"He still has a bat in his hands," Hargrove said. "I think B.J.'s been around long enough to recognize that when a good, young player comes into a situation like this, he's going to get at-bats. Larry's showing so far the belief we've had that getting more at-bats will make him a better player."

As the Orioles trailed 9-7 in the eighth, Hargrove sent up Jose Leon to pinch-hit for Surhoff with the tying runs on base and two outs. Leon struck out against Mike Venafro.

Earlier, Melvin Mora stayed hot, ripping a double into left field and scoring in the first inning, and hitting a two-run homer in the second off Devil Rays starter Steve Parris to give the Orioles a 5-0 lead. But Tampa Bay drove Rick Helling from the game by scoring four runs in the second and three in the fourth.

Anderson's run-scoring single off Pat Hentgen in the fifth increased its lead to 8-5 before Tony Batista led off the next inning with his fifth homer.

Center fielder Rocco Baldelli made a sliding catch to end the sixth and leave the bases loaded after the Orioles scored twice to make it 8-7.

The Devil Rays already had 11 hits by the fourth inning, and a throwing error by Helling on an attempted pickoff tied the score, 5-5. Baldelli's sacrifice fly gave Tampa Bay the lead, and Aubry Huff homered with two outs to chase Helling.

"It's unfortunate that Grover had to see a performance like this his first time back after we've been playing so well and pitching so well," Helling said. "To have him see this pathetic effort his first night back, it's not good. It's unacceptable to me."

The rotation had allowed 10 earned runs in its past 40 innings. Helling shut out Tampa Bay through eight innings on Monday.

Even in defeat, Hargrove welcomed the chance to immerse himself in baseball again after spending the majority of last week in hospitals in Perryton and Amarillo. Rita Ann Hargrove, 73, underwent her fourth surgery Friday morning related to a severe infection.

"It's good to be back," he said, "and getting the trainer's injury reports instead of a doctor's medical report."

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