Orioles again take wrong left turn, 2-0

3-hit loss to D. Rays drops O's to 9-20 vs. left-handers

July 17, 2004|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Erik Bedard was held back one day because of travel complications that left him stranded in Canada. Just his luck that the Orioles' offense would be stuck in a holding pattern after he took the mound.

He needed two runs yesterday to avoid a loss, which is too much to ask when the Orioles are facing a left-hander. Why not 50 or 100? The odds of getting them are about the same.

Baseballs were beaten into the fake grass so often, the fake worms began to complain. The Orioles didn't get a runner to third base, and only two reached second - one on defensive indifference in the ninth inning.

And, for the 49th time, they lost.

John Halama, starting because another Tampa Bay pitcher had a stiff neck, held the Orioles to three singles over eight innings to lead the Devil Rays to a 2-0 victory over the Orioles at Tropicana Field.

Danys Baez pitched the ninth, blowing a high fastball past Javy Lopez to end the game and the Devil Rays' five-game losing streak. The result also continued a trend for the Orioles (38-49) that grows more disturbing and perplexing.

When a left-hander starts against them, the Orioles are 9-20 this season, 55-105 since 2001. They led the American League with a .294 batting average against right-handers before yesterday, but are hitting .245 against lefties.

"It's somewhat of a mystery to me," hitting coach Terry Crowley said.

The search for answers should be done outside the clubhouse because there aren't many theories being passed around inside it.

The Orioles have lost to Halama, Mark Hendrickson, Darrell May and Casey Fossum. Randy Johnson is acceptable. So are Eric Milton and Jamie Moyer. But Jeff Fassero?


"I can't answer that," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "I have no idea."

Said Crowley: "It's nothing that I can put my finger on."

It was suggested that the problem has become more mental, but Mazzilli looks at his bench and sees physical evidence. Melvin Mora is expected to come off the disabled list this weekend, and David Segui might not be far behind. B.J. Surhoff, who's also injured, is batting .311 against left-handers despite hitting from that side.

Mazzilli referred to them as solutions. Anyone who can hit a lefty on this team must be viewed as a savior.

"What can I do?" Mazzilli said. "We'll just keep on going. That's all you can do."

Rafael Palmeiro singled with one out in the second inning and David Newhan reached on an infield hit, the bat shattering in his hands. Brian Roberts hit a sharp grounder to third in the sixth inning and the ball took a nasty hop off the edge of the turf and cleared Damian Rolls' head.

Those were the only base runners against Halama (5-3), who turned in his longest start since May 1, 2001. He retired 12 in a row before Roberts reached, and one ball left the infield.

"We got three hits," Mazzilli said. "You're not going to win with three hits."

Said Bedard: "You always expect them to score. They scored yesterday; they didn't score today, but they'll probably score tomorrow."

Lopez was batting .309 against lefties before going 0-for-3 against Halama, who took Hendrickson's turn yesterday rather than pitch tomorrow. Miguel Tejada's average stood at .330, but he also went 0-for-3 before Baez walked him in the ninth. Palmeiro was at .160, Roberts .226, Larry Bigbie .167, Luis Matos .146.

Matos has issues that extend beyond specific matchups. After going 0-for-3 yesterday, he's in a 4-for-39 slump that includes one RBI in 11 games.

"I don't know if he's trying too hard or what," Mazzilli said. "He's just got to let things happen. You can't force it."

Asked if he will continue to start Matos or sit him for a while, Mazzilli said, "Don't know yet. We'll think about it."

Bedard (3-4) allowed both runs in the third on a two-out double by Rocco Baldelli and a bloop single by Aubrey Huff. He has held teams to two runs or fewer in 11 of his 16 starts.

Huff's ball barely left a mark in the turf after Bedard jammed him. "That's frustrating, but it'll happen every game," Bedard said. "It happens every game when I pitch."

He might fare better if not matched up against a left-handed pitcher. Perhaps a bloop single wouldn't seem so critical to his chances of winning.

The Orioles get a reprieve tonight with right-hander Dewon Brazelton, but more trouble is brewing with Hendrickson closing out the series.

"We're going to continue working on it, continue taking advantage of the two left-handed [batting practice] pitchers that we have here and hit extra," Crowley said. "We've gotten beaten by some tough lefties like Milton and Randy Johnson. But today, I have no answer."

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