Riley comes unglued

O's get pasted, 7-3

Pitcher gives up 7 runs, suffers loss to Devil Rays

`I didn't do my job tonight'

Team falls from first place as 5-game win streak ends

April 22, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Orioles pitcher Matt Riley rediscovered what it's like to struggle at the big league level last night, and when he was done, he went back to relive the nightmare on videotape.

"I saw the look in my eyes," he said, "and I wasn't throwing with the same conviction I had my first two starts."

After jump-starting the starting rotation with a spectacular performance in his previous outing, Riley looked every bit the rookie this time, as the Orioles lost, 7-3, to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays before 20,781 at Camden Yards.

The defeat ended the Orioles' five-game winning streak and dropped them out of first place, a half game behind the Boston Red Sox.

But this is an Orioles team that would accept temporary setbacks in the standings if its young pitchers could learn valuable lessons along the way. That's why, even at the end of this one, there was hope.

Riley, 24, knew exactly where he went wrong.

The Devil Rays scored two runs in the first inning, and Rocco Baldelli made it 3-0 with a bases-empty home run to start the third. But even with the Orioles going hitless against Tampa Bay starter Paul Abbott (2-1) through four innings, the game's defining moment didn't come until the fifth.

At that point, the Orioles were still well within striking distance. During their five-game winning streak, they had outscored their opponents, 44-13, and had hit several balls hard against Abbott, only to see their best efforts die in the wind.

Riley (1-1) surrendered a single to Baldelli and walked Eduardo Perez to start the fifth inning, and with one out, Tino Martinez stepped up.

In his first two trips to the plate, the left-handed hitting Martinez saw eight pitches, all balls. The left-handed throwing Riley walked him in the first and again in the third without even making him swing the bat.

"He had a tough time with Tino, and he should dominate left-handed hitters," said Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley. "He didn't have his fastball today. When he commands his fastball, he's got a lot of weapons."

Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli decided Martinez would be Riley's last batter. With Rodrigo Lopez warming in the bullpen, Mazzilli wanted Riley to get the left-hander before heading for the showers.

Riley threw a first-pitch strike to Martinez, but he quickly fell behind in the count again, 2-1. His next pitch was a fastball, high and in, and he knew he was in trouble as soon as Martinez took his swing.

"It's exactly where I wanted it, but Tino's a great hitter - he's been doing it for years - and he made a good swing," Riley said. "He opened up and turned on a fastball in. I wasn't throwing strikes to him all day, so he could have looked for that. I set him up to be that aggressive."

Martinez launched the pitch onto the flag court beyond the right-field wall, an estimated 370 feet down the line for a three-run homer, putting the Devil Rays ahead, 6-0.

Mazzilli gave Riley an extra hitter, hoping the youngster could regain confidence. But Julio Lugo only added to the humiliation, hitting a dribbler in front the mound. Riley went to get it, but his throw to first was late, and he spent a moment lying there on the infield, flat on his back.

"I think he was one batter away from getting out of this OK, but it didn't work that way," Mazzilli said. "That's the time when you're struggling, step off the mound, regain your composure. That's when you have to regroup."

After Riley walked to the dugout and slammed his glove against the bench, Lopez gave up a run-scoring single to Carl Crawford, making it 7-0.

All seven runs were charged to Riley, who had held the Toronto Blue Jays to one hit over seven dazzling innings on Friday. That night, he seemed to have come light years from the pitcher who struggled so much in 1999.

Friday's performance triggered a run by Kurt Ainsworth, Eric DuBose and Sidney Ponson in which the Orioles' starters went 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in a four-game span.

This time, Riley allowed nine hits and five walks.

And sure enough, the Orioles made a comeback bid. Abbott also faltered in the fifth, as he walked Rafael Palmeiro and Javy Lopez before Jay Gibbons crushed a three-run homer.

Abbott, a 36-year-old reclamation project who had held the Chicago White Sox scoreless for seven innings in his previous start, gave up just two hits over six innings.

Lance Carter tossed two scoreless innings of relief, and Devil Rays closer Danys Baez pitched the ninth. Lopez extended his hitting streak to a career-high 16 games with a single in the ninth, but the Orioles finished with just four hits.

"It's frustrating," Riley said. "This team's done a good job scoring runs, and I didn't do my job tonight."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Devil Rays' Damian Moss (0-0, 9.00) vs. Orioles' Kurt Ainsworth (0-1, 10.38)

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