Orioles get left behind again, 3-1

Devil Rays' Hendrickson silences O's, who are 9-17 vs. left-handers

Slumping Palmeiro voices his frustration

July 07, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

During his four-year NBA career, Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitcher Mark Hendrickson probably heard a scouting report like the one that's been written and rewritten about the Orioles this season.

They can't go to their left.

Hendrickson, a 6-foot-9 former power forward, became the latest in a long line of left-handers to baffle the Orioles last night, holding them to six hits in eight shutout innings as the Devil Rays claimed a 3-1 victory before 22,192 at Camden Yards.

After beating two right-handers in their doubleheader sweep over Tampa Bay on Monday, the Orioles fell to 9-17 in games started by opposing left-handers.

With their 81st game, the Orioles reached the midpoint of their season at a disappointing 36-45, and fell back into a virtual tie with the Toronto Blue Jays for last place in the American League East.

And no one seemed to take the loss harder than Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, who went hitless in four at-bats, stranded four runners on base, and saw his batting average fall to .242, including a shockingly low .159 against left-handers.

Palmeiro sat slumped in his chair facing his locker with a furrowed brow as a group of reporters approached him in the losing clubhouse.

"Honestly guys," Palmeiro said. "I don't know what to say anymore."

Tampa Bay got a run-scoring single in the third inning from Rocco Baldelli and added two more runs in the fourth off Orioles starter Rodrigo Lopez (6-5).

The Orioles did nothing against Hendrickson (6-6) for eight innings but tried staging a two-out, ninth-inning rally against Devil Rays right-handed closer Danys Baez.

Palmeiro was the only left-handed hitter in the Orioles' starting lineup, so manager Lee Mazzilli started going to his bench. David Newhan singled off Baez, putting runners at first and second, and then the .209-hitting Luis Lopez hit a run-scoring single to right field.

Mazzilli waited to use the left-handed-hitting Larry Bigbie until that moment, and he drew a walk, loading the bases, and bringing the fans to their feet. But Baez got Brian Roberts to foul out to third base, earning his 17th save.

Palmeiro wasn't the only one responsible for the loss, but the game seemed to magnify a recent slump in which he has hit .173 (17-for-98) in his past 26 games.

"When Raffy's not being Raffy, I think at times it changes a few things," Mazzilli said. "But it's a team. You can't put anything on one guy. You can't do that."

Coming into this season, Palmeiro's career numbers were very close against right-handers (.294) and left-handers (.284).

But this year, there has been a noticeable drop against lefties.

On Sunday - with the team facing Philadelphia left-hander Eric Milton - Mazzilli dropped Palmeiro out of the cleanup spot and put him behind Javy Lopez for the first time this season.

Mazzilli made the same move yesterday, and it didn't help.

"I'm sure a lot of it's mental," Palmeiro said. "When I go up to the plate, I feel great. My mind's right. I don't feel like I'm overmatched or anything. I see the ball well. Mechanically I'm not well, and because of my mechanics not being right, I'm not having much success."

Palmeiro had two big chances, one in the first inning and one in the sixth.

With two outs in the first, the Orioles had runners at the corners, when Palmeiro flied out to center field on Hendrickson's first pitch.

Mazzilli said Palmeiro seems "just a little anxious right now," and that quick at-bat seemed to show it.

Palmeiro fouled out to the catcher with a full count in his second at-bat and came up again after Miguel Tejada and Lopez singled with one out in the sixth.

That time, Hendrickson threw a first-pitch strike and then Palmeiro popped up to second with the second pitch. Luis Matos ended the inning with a grounder to second.

Asked about the team's struggles against lefties this season, Palmeiro said, "I don't know. I can't answer that. I try to figure it out, myself, why I'm struggling so bad against lefties. I can't figure it out."

At 39, Palmeiro is having his worst season in several years. He has hit at least 38 home runs in nine consecutive seasons - a major league record - but this year, that figures to come to an end. He has just 11 home runs and is on pace for 22.

Palmeiro knows he needs to turn things around.

"I'm tired of waiting," he said. "I've worked very hard all offseason and during the season, and it's hard to have to go through something like this."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05

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

Starters: Devil Rays' Rob Bell (2-3, 5.23) vs. Orioles' John Parrish (5-2, 3.91)

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