Bad bounce for O's unlucky, but not unexpected

Monday's loss to Athletics turned on fluke play in sixth

August 25, 2004|By JOE CHRISTENSEN | JOE CHRISTENSEN,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, CALIF. — Late Orioles game: Last night's game between the Orioles and Athletics in Oakland ended too late to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at www.baltimoresun.com.

OAKLAND, Calif. - Orioles pitcher Rodrigo Lopez could have guessed his luck would turn on a fluke play in Monday night's 4-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics.

That's the way things always seem to go for him against the A's, especially at Network Associates Coliseum.

Lopez took a 3-1 lead to the mound in the sixth inning, and the Orioles were thrilled to be in that position against A's starter Tim Hudson, especially after getting outscored 51-18 in the first six games of their losing streak.

But with one out, A's leadoff hitter Eric Byrnes hit a little spinner that rolled along the first-base line. Something that harmless sealed Lopez's fate.

Instead of charging the ball, and taking the easy out, veteran first baseman Rafael Palmeiro froze, waiting behind the base. Sure enough, the ball hit the base (making it a fair ball) and bounced out of Palmeiro's reach.

"I can't attack it," Palmeiro said. "I've got to wait on it."

But by that time, Byrnes had raced up the line for a single.

"It could have been an easy out," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said, "and the next thing you know, it pops off the bag."

With three left-handed hitters due up for Oakland - Scott Hatteberg, Eric Chavez and Erubiel Durazo - Mazzilli went to the mound. Lopez did not want to come out of the game, but his pitch count had reached 106 after the laborious early innings.

Knowing Lopez had a history for struggling late in his starts, Mazzilli called for left-hander Buddy Groom.

"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 lefthanders."

So Lopez went to the bench and watched helplessly as the game fell apart.

Hatteberg singled to right field, and Chavez singled to left, loading the bases. Groom struck out Durazo for a big second out, and Mazzilli turned to righthander Jason Grimsley.

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 game, 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, giving Oakland the lead.

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

Hudson (9-4) allowed three runs, one earned, in 7 1/3 innings to get the win.

The loss gave the Orioles their third seven-game losing streak of the season.

Lopez, who leads the Orioles with 10 wins, was charged with two runs on eight hits in 5 1/3 innings in the no-decision, leaving his ERA at 3.79.

The scenario seemed all too familiar to Lopez, who has a career record of 0-3 with a 5.32 ERA at Oakland.

On July 11, 2003, he and Hudson engaged in a scoreless duel at the Coliseum. And then with two outs in the seventh inning, Oakland scored two quick runs.

Lopez hit Ramon Hernandez with a pitch, and Terrence Long sliced a double down the leftfield line. Hernandez scored, and Long hustled all the way home when the throw from the outfield got past catcher Geronimo Gil.

The Orioles went on to lose that one 2-0.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Oakland Athletics

Site: Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.

Time: 10:05

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

Starters: Orioles' Bruce Chen (first 2004 start) vs. A's Rich Harden (8-5, 4.01)

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