Julio fails to close door as O's open series with 4-3 defeat

Reliever allows HR in 9th before Rays win it in 10th

April 10, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli was starting to look like a man with the golden touch last night.

He made two more daring pitching moves that put his team in position to defeat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and move one game over .500.

But when Mazzilli went for the one decision that seemed automatic - using closer Jorge Julio to protect a one-run lead in the ninth inning - the whole thing backfired.

Tampa Bay pinch hitter Robert Fick lofted a game-tying home run off Julio with one out in the ninth inning, and the Devil Rays used a run-scoring single by Eduardo Perez in the 10th to pull out a 4-3 victory at Tropicana Field.

One night after their bullpen carried them to a hard-fought, 3-2 victory in 13 innings against the Boston Red Sox, the Orioles (2-3) were two outs from another victory when their relievers stumbled.

Julio suffered his first blown save of the season, and John Parrish took the loss.

"The outcome wasn't what we wanted," Parrish said, after giving up the game-winning hit. "But that's not going to happen to us too many times."

As bad as Parrish and Julio felt, the roots of this loss went back to the seventh inning, when Orioles ace Sidney Ponson was trying to protect a lead that had come on the strength of a two-run homer by Javy Lopez in the fourth.

Seven outs from victory, with his team clinging to a 3-2 lead, Mazzilli decided to turn things over to a bullpen that had been used for a combined 14 innings over the previous two games.

The Devil Rays had a runner on first, and the left-handed hitting Carl Crawford at the plate. After Rey Sanchez made the second out in the seventh inning, Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley went out to check on Ponson, who had thrown 88 pitches.

Wiley went back to the dugout, and after a brief pause, Mazzilli made his move. Later, Mazzilli said the Wiley visit was used simply to buy left-hander B.J. Ryan time to get loose. Mazzilli didn't want to push Ponson, who had thrown 111 pitches on Sunday night.

"He looked good [overall], but that inning it looked like he was pushing himself," Mazzilli said. "I think he was running out of gas."

Said Ponson: "I think that was a good call, even though I wanted to give those [relievers] a break tonight."

Ryan, who had thrown 21 pitches in 1 2/3 innings of scoreless work Thursday, came in and used a nasty slider to dispose of Crawford, ending that threat.

But in the eighth, Ryan ran into trouble of his own, as the Devil Rays put two men aboard with two outs. Once again, Mazzilli, who had skillfully used five relievers to secure Thursday's victory, went to his bullpen.

With the right-handed hitting Rocco Baldelli coming up, Mazzilli turned to Rodrigo Lopez, the one-time starter who has now played a pivotal relief role in three of the team's five games.

Baldelli hit a pop foul down the right-field line, and Jay Gibbons ran over to make a diving catch. Three outs from victory, the Orioles had a chance to pad the lead when they loaded the bases in the ninth.

But Devil Rays right fielder Jose Cruz made a spectacular running catch in the right-center gap to take an extra-base hit from Larry Bigbie.

"Blame Cruz," said Ponson, who teamed with Cruz last season in San Francisco. "I saw him do it for two months. He saved the game right there."

So on came Julio for his first save opportunity of the season. Last year, he converted 36 of 44 save chances, and Mazzilli has stayed with him as the undisputed closer this season.

It was Julio's third consecutive day of work, as Mazzilli gave him the ninth inning of Wednesday's 10-3 loss, and two innings on Thursday, when the game was tied.

Asked if he felt tired, Julio said, "No, I'm fine. I feel good. I throw every day. I'm ready to go tomorrow, too."

But after striking out Geoff Blum, Julio left a slider up in the zone for Fick, who launched it above the right-field wall for his first career pinch-hit home run.

The Orioles had a chance in the 10th, but with a man on second, Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada both failed to come through with a runner in scoring position.

Parrish, who hadn't pitched since he went 2 2/3 innings on Tuesday, said he came in feeling strong to start the 10th. Cruz walked and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Damian Rolls.

Perez hit a slider from Parrish up the middle, and Cruz scored easily with the winning run.

"B.J. [Ryan] did the job, Lopey did the job," Mazzilli said. "They all did the job, what they needed to do. Julio just got a pitch up, and you can't do that. You get ahead in the count, 1-2, you've got to put it away."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Time: 6:15

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Erik Bedard (first 2004 start) vs. Devil Rays' Jeremi Gonzalez (0-1, 9.64)

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