Twins get last laugh on O's again

Jones' homer deals Orioles more 9th-inning misery, 3-2, for fourth loss in five games

July 21, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS - Again yesterday, it was their opponent who had the clutch hit that they are having so much trouble getting lately, and the Orioles were forced to trudge off the field and watch a celebration go on at their expense.

It is becoming an all too familiar feeling for these Orioles, who yesterday saw a winnable game turn into a devastating loss on their opponent's last at-bat for the third time in five days. And for the second straight day, Twins outfielder Jacque Jones did the honors.

With one out in the ninth inning, Jones hit Jason Grimsley's first-pitch sinker that didn't sink enough about 10 rows deep into the Metrodome's left-field seats, breaking a tie and sending the Orioles to a 3-2 loss before 30,091.

"It seems like things are going like this," said Grimsley, who was making just his third appearance since returning to the team last week after having Tommy John surgery in the offseason. "You make one mistake that really wasn't that bad of a pitch and the ball goes out of the ballpark."

As a result, the Orioles (50-44) lost another road series and headed to Florida for a three-game set with Tampa Bay, starting tomorrow, in third place in the American League East, two games behind the Boston Red Sox. Losers of four of their past five, the Orioles also fell to 1 1/2 games behind the Twins (51-42) in the AL wild-card standings.

"We were winning every game [in the series], but you have to score more than two runs a game to beat these guys," Jay Gibbons said.

In the three-game series, the Orioles scored only eight runs off Twins pitching, failing to take advantage of three good outings by their own starters. Yesterday, it was Rodrigo Lopez's 7 2/3 innings of six-hit, two-run ball that went to waste as right-hander Brad Radke held the Orioles to two runs and five hits in seven innings.

After Rafael Palmeiro touched Radke for a two-run homer in the fourth inning to break a scoreless tie, Twins pitchers retired 16 straight Orioles - 11 straight by Radke - until Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada laced a two-out double off Twins All-Star closer Joe Nathan in the ninth inning.

Tejada's double, according to the Orioles, symbolized their run of bad luck lately. The ball hit the baggy in right field, just missing the row of folded-up seats, which would have given Tejada his 21st home run and the Orioles a 3-2 lead.

Tejada clapped his hands in frustration after reaching second and stared toward right field in disbelief.

"It seemed like it missed by a couple of feet," Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said.

Tejada never left second base. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire intentionally walked Palmeiro, who is 17-for-36 during a 10-game hitting streak, and asked Nathan to go after Sammy Sosa with two outs.

Sosa waved at Nathan's first two sliders outside the strike zone to fall behind, 0-2. Then, after laying off two more offspeed pitches, Sosa swung through another slider. Inning and threat over.

Rookie Chris Ray may have been Mazzilli's first choice to come in and pitch the ninth, but he likely would have been the reliever to close the game if the Orioles had gotten a lead. Closer B.J. Ryan had blown saves on consecutive days, and Mazzilli wanted to give the All-Star a rest. So Mazzilli handed the ball to Grimsley.

"He's on the team," said Mazzilli when asked about putting Grimsley, who's pitched 1 2/3 total innings this season, in such a tight situation. "He's ready to go. That's where he belongs."

Grimsley struck out Twins leadoff batter Torii Hunter, but less than a minute later, his first pitch was rocketing off Jones' bat.

"I'm going to throw pretty much my same pitch," Grimsley said. "[Hitters] know that. I am going to take my chances with my sinker nine times out of 10. ... Ninety-nine times out of 100, Jacque Jones is going to pull the ball. He just stayed back and hit that one good."

Jones won the game for the Twins on Tuesday night with an infield single in the ninth. He stepped into the batter's box 3-for-15 lifetime against Grimsley.

"I thought he was going to try and get ahead," Jones said. "I didn't know whether he was going to go inside or outside. I just tried to stay with my plan and stay inside the ball."

The Twins tied the game in the sixth, finally getting to Lopez for two runs. Shannon Stewart scored Nick Punto with a triple to deep center and came home on Joe Mauer's groundout.

That wasn't the only damage the Twins leveled on Lopez in that inning. Hunter ripped a liner up the middle that hit the Orioles pitcher in the stomach. Lopez gathered himself and picked up the ball to throw Hunter out at first, before collapsing to the turf. After a brief visit by Mazzilli and head trainer Richie Bancells, Lopez stayed in the game.

"It didn't get the bone good, but it got my stomach," Lopez said. "It took the wind out of me. I tried to recover as fast as I could."

The feeling was only temporary for Lopez, who saw a good outing wasted, and for the Orioles, who blew another lead and lost another game in the most heartbreaking of ways.

"Those are games we have to find a way to win, and we just didn't do it," said Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts. "[We] pitched as well as you could pitch for three days. When that happens, you need to win."

Not great late

In three of the past five games, an Orioles reliever has given up the winning run in the final inning:

Chris Ray

Saturday

After making a throwing error, he gave up the winning run on a single by Mike Morse in a 3-2 win for the Mariners.

B.J. Ryan

Tuesday

After a catcher's error and Ryan's wild pitch tied it, he gave up the winning run on a single by Jacque Jones in a 4-3 Twins win.

Jason Grimsley

Yesterday

After the Orioles blew a 2-0 lead in the sixth, he gave up a homer to Jones with one out in the ninth that lifted the Twins, 3-2.

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