Rays rattle Chen, then roll

Starter all right after being hit in shin, but Orioles lose fifth of past six, 7-5

July 23, 2005|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - It's not exactly known how much Bruce Chen was affected by Carl Crawford's grounder that hit the Orioles starter flush in the left shin in the first inning last night. For his part, Chen said that he doesn't like making excuses and that he wasn't affected at all.

But at the very least, the pitcher that lifted himself off the ground after getting hit by the second batter of the game was not the one the Orioles have grown accustomed to all season. Suddenly, the Orioles' most reliable starter was hitting batters, missing the strike zone and on the occasion that he was finding it, balls were getting sprayed all over Tropicana Field, including the bleachers.

Chen lasted just 4 1/3 innings last night, giving up six runs and eight hits, the big blow coming on a second-inning grand slam by Aubrey Huff, and the Orioles fell to the last-place Tampa Bay Devil Rays, 7-5.

"I am not trying to make excuses," said Chen (7-6), who admitted that his leg felt numb at first but turned out to be fine. "I just pitched poorly. I had everything necessary out there to pitch a good game and I just didn't."

As more trade winds swirled around the team, much of them focused on today's scheduled starter, Sidney Ponson, the Orioles (50-45) lost for the fifth time in six games, but remained 2 1/2 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East. They were beaten by a little-known right-hander named Seth McClung, who entered the game 0-5 with a 7.05 ERA. McClung gave up two runs in the first and Larry Bigbie's bases-empty homer in the second on the way to his first win since beating the Orioles on May 16, 2003, at Camden Yards.

Danys Baez, the closer for Tampa Bay (33-64), allowed an RBI single to Melvin Mora in the ninth, but retired the potential tying run, Miguel Tejada, to pick up his 18th save.

"I thought we had a chance of getting [McClung] out of the game, but they put up a five-spot [in second inning]," said Orioles bench coach Sam Perlozzo, who was the acting manager with Lee Mazzilli serving a one-game suspension. "That took a lot of the starch out of us."

Mazzilli was allowed to watch the game at Tropicana Field, but not from the dugout or clubhouse. He had initially been suspended for two games for arguing with umpire Charlie Reliford on June 18 and then throwing a tray of gum on the field on his way back to the dugout after his first career ejection. After discussing the incident with baseball officials about two weeks ago, his suspension reduced to one game.

Reliever Steve Kline wasn't as lucky. After an appeal, the league upheld his four-game ban assessed for arguing with home-plate umpire Marty Foster about a balk during a June 27 game against the New York Yankees. Kline compounded matters by accusing the umpires of favoritism toward the Yankees after the game.

"I thought I'd get a couple of days off," Kline said. "[Detroit reliever Kyle] Farnsworth slams a guy and gets five days and I get four for cussing at a guy? But that's their decision. You can't argue with the law I guess, unless you're in Hazzard County."

The Orioles are not allowed to make a roster move as a result of the suspension, so their bullpen will have Tim Byrdak as the lone left-handed middle reliever until Tuesday.

If Chen's performance is repeated over the next couple of days, the Orioles' bullpen could be on fumes. With no long reliever on the roster after the Orioles designated - and have since lost - James Baldwin, Todd Williams entered the game in the bottom of the fifth. Chen, who has been one of the Orioles' most reliable starters going at least six innings in 14 of his 18 starts just never found his rhythm.

"I don't know how much push he was getting off his back leg," said Orioles catcher Sal Fasano. "It had to hurt. It hit him flush. He just didn't seem to be himself."

The left-hander stayed down for a while and consulted with Perlozzo and head trainer Richie Bancells. The next batter he faced, Jorge Cantu, ripped an RBI double to cut the Orioles' lead to 2-1.

"I think it probably threw his rhythm off," Perlozzo said about Crawford's come-backer. "Mentally, he was probably thinking about it, dividing his concentration. I'm sure it didn't help."

The Orioles had the early lead thanks to RBIs from Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa.

In the bottom of the second, Chen allowed two home runs, a double, a walk and a hit batsman. The highlight for the Devil Rays, Huff's grand slam - the first of his career - came on Chen's first pitch of the at-bat, an 88-mph fastball that wound up deep in the right field bleachers.

"I wanted it up and in so I can jam him, but he was looking for that pitch," Chen said. "He hit it good."

NOTES: Orioles reliever John Parrish, who had been on the minor league disabled list at Double-A Bowie, had ligament transplant surgery on his left elbow last week in Cincinnati. The Tommy John surgery was performed by Dr. Timothy Kremchek, the same doctor who repaired Jason Grimsley's right elbow. After being optioned to Bowie on June 13, Parrish appeared in five games there. ... Palmeiro will likely get the day off today, Mazzilli said.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site, time: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla, 6:15

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Sidney Ponson (7-8, 6.04) vs. Devil Rays' Scott Kazmir (4-7, 4.33)

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