Riley comes unglued

O's get pasted, 7-3

Pitcher gives up 7 runs, suffers loss to Devil Rays

"He just couldn't get it going"

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 major league level last night, and the fallout came quickly.

After jump-starting the team's rotation with a spectacular performance in his last start, Riley looked every bit the rookie this time, as the Orioles had their five-game winning streak stopped in a 7-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays before 20,781 at Camden Yards.

The Orioles (8-5) fell out of first place in the American League East, a half game behind the Boston Red Sox, who defeated the Blue Jays in Toronto.

Riley gave up two runs in the first inning, and Rocco Baldelli hit a bases-empty homer in the third inning, making it 3-0.

The game's definitive moment came in the fifth. With Devil Rays starter Paul Abbott carrying a no-hit bid, Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli left Riley in the game, and Tino Martinez hit a three-run homer that made it 6-0.

Mazzilli had Rodrigo Lopez warming in the bullpen, and he said Martinez was supposed to be Riley's last batter. It was lefty vs. lefty, and after walking Martinez in his previous two trips to the plate, Riley grooved a 2-1 fastball that Martinez launched onto the flag court beyond the right-field wall.

"I was trying to go in on him." Riley said. "I was throwing in on him all day. He guessed right. He got his pitch, and he hit it."

Mazzilli actually let Riley face one more batter, and when Julio Lugo reached on an infield single, the manager turned to Lopez.

"It just seemed like [Riley] was fighting himself all night." Mazzilli said. "He just couldn't get it going."

Riley (1-1) flung his glove when he got to the bench. He was charged with seven runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings. He walked a season-high five and struck out three.

"I went to look at the tape, and I saw it in my eyes." Riley said. "I wasn't throwing with the same conviction as the last two starts."

The Orioles finally got to Abbott in the fifth, when he walked Rafael Palmeiro and Javy Lopez before surrendering a three-run homer to Jay Gibbons.

But by that time, it was too late.

Abbott (2-1), 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 his six innings before Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella turned things over to his bullpen.

The Orioles had out-scored their opponents, 44-13, during their five-game winning streak. This time, the Orioles finished with just four hits.

"We weren't going to win our next 150." Gibbons said. "These guys always play us tough."

Offensively for the Orioles, there were multiple levels of frustration. They hit several balls hard, but the wind played tricks on them and knocked down several potential hits.

Lopez singled in the ninth inning, extending his career-high hitting streak to 16 games dating back to last season, but he lost a home run when the wind knocked down his drive to left field in the second inning.

Devil Rays left fielder Carl Crawford leaped and made the catch at the wall.

Other frustrating moments like that followed for the Orioles.

But for Riley, the night marked an abrupt end to his recent run of major league success. After failing miserably in his first big league stint, as a wild-eyed 20-year-old in 1999 and coming back from reconstructive elbow surgery, Riley returned to the major leagues last year and made two strong, five- inning starts against the Blue Jays.

He followed that with two dazzling performances this season. On April 8, he held the Red Sox to two runs (one earned) on three hits over 6 1/3 innings. And in his last start, Friday at Toronto, he held the Blue Jays to one hit over seven innings.

Riley's was the first of four consecutive starts that stirred new levels of excitement about this team. Its biggest question mark had been the starting pitching, but after Kurt Ainsworth, Eric DuBose and Sidney Ponson each followed with strong performances, it raised this team's hopes a little more.

In those four games, each pitcher went at least seven innings and allowed four hits or less, going 3-0 with a 1.50 ERA in that span.

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

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