Orioles get no relief vs. A's in losing 7th in row

Down two runs in sixth, Oakland rallies to win, 4-3

August 24, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. - Miguel Tejada said he had tears in his eyes yesterday when he arrived at Network Associates Coliseum, the ballpark he called home for his first seven major league seasons.

What happened there later to the Orioles was enough to make anyone weep.

On the night Tejada finally got to hear the Oakland Athletics' fans cheer his name again, the Orioles put themselves in position to end their latest losing streak.

But the A's came back with three runs in the sixth inning, getting two big hits against Orioles reliever Jason Grimsley, to pull out a 4-3 victory.

The loss gave the Orioles' their third seven-game losing streak of the season and pushed them back to nine games under .500, at 57-66.

This one brought new levels of frustration on a night when Orioles starter Rodrigo Lopez had a chance to defeat Oakland starter Tim Hudson (9-4).

"It wasn't meant to be," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said.

Lopez took a 3-1 lead to the mound in the sixth inning, and while he had labored to get there, it was just the start the Orioles needed.

But with one out, Eric Byrnes hit a little spinner up the first base line, and it changed the complexion of the game.

Veteran first baseman Rafael Palmeiro waited for the ball behind the base, and the ball stayed fair, hitting the bag and bouncing a few feet out of his reach.

By that time, Byrnes had sped down the line for a single.

"I can't attack it," Palmeiro said. "I've got to wait on it. That's the way it goes."

With Lopez's pitch count at 106, Mazzilli turned to his bullpen, summoning left-hander Buddy Groom with three consecutive left-handed hitters coming to the plate.

"I didn't want to come out early," Lopez said. "But I understand. I made a lot of pitches."

After starting the season in the bullpen, Lopez has shown a history of struggling late in his starts.

"It's a situation where you don't want to give [Lopez] a chance to lose the game right there," Mazzilli said. "You feel comfortable bringing in Buddy in that situation to face the left-handers."

But the strategy backfired.

Scott Hatteberg singled to right field, and Eric Chavez singled to left, loading the bases. Groom struck out Erubiel Durazo for the second out, but Mazzilli turned to Grimsley, and he couldn't hold the lead.

With Jermaine Dye at the plate, Grimsley threw a sinker to get the ground ball the Orioles needed. The pitch broke Dye's bat, but he reached down and pushed it up the middle for a two-run single.

That tied the score, and then Grimsley left another sinker high in the zone for Adam Melhuse, who drilled the pitch to right field for a run-scoring single.

"I made a [terrible] pitch," Grimsley said. "That's the game right there."

It capped an emotional day for Tejada, After signing autographs for a throng of fans at the Orioles' hotel in downtown San Francisco, Tejada hopped in a black limousine and rode across the Bay Bridge.

It was a clear, cool day, and Tejada said he "cried a little bit" when he spotted the Coliseum.

"I was thinking, `I'm coming back today, and I'm going to just try to play the team I should have been playing for my whole career,' " Tejada said. "It's hard for me, but at the same time, I was happy to come back here and see my old friends."

A sparse crowd of 24,131 cheered Tejada's name when the baritone-voiced public address announcer, Roy Steele, announced the starting lineups. Batting cleanup, Tejada led off the second inning, and most of the crowd came to its feet.

Tejada walked to the plate slowly, doing a half-circle toward third base, and tipping his helmet briefly to acknowledge the applause. Then he rifled a ball off the glove of A's third baseman Chavez and reached on an error.

That broke Chavez's career-best, 47-game errorless streak, and the Orioles went on to score two unearned runs in the inning to grab a 2-1 lead.

Melvin Mora made it 3-1 in the sixth with a run-scoring single into the right-center-field gap. Tejada hit another smash at Chavez, and the ball caromed toward Bobby Crosby, the shortstop.

It would have been the second error of the night for Chavez, but inexplicably, Mora dashed for third base, and Crosby quickly retrieved the ball, firing to Chavez for the out.

Instead of having runners at first and second with no outs, the Orioles had one out with Tejada on first, and he was muttering to himself. Hudson escaped the inning without further damage, and Oakland came back that inning for the win.

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