Bullpen is no relief for O's

Given 1-run lead, relievers allow 7 in last 3 innings to fall despite 4-run 9th

Blue Jays 9 Orioles 7


It's been a constant of the young season. When Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo calls on his bullpen, he rarely knows what he's going to get. He hadn't had much concern about LaTroy Hawkins, at least not until last night.

Hawkins was called on to protect a one-run seventh-inning lead, but he couldn't, allowing a three-run home run to Troy Glaus, his second home run of the night, and it carried the Toronto Blue Jays to a 9-7 victory over the slumping Orioles before 14,315 last night at Camden Yards.

The Orioles rallied off the Blue Jays' bullpen, scoring four runs in the ninth. Miguel Tejada's two-run homer pulled the Orioles within two and prompted Toronto manager John Gibbons to call on B.J. Ryan. The former Orioles closer arrived at the mound amid a smattering of boos, but struck out Jay Gibbons on a high fastball to notch his fifth save.

Hawkins got just one out, before allowing three straight hits, the last one being the three-run homer to Glaus, who put a 2-0 pitch over the scoreboard in right field for the third of his four hits. Because of one disastrous inning, Hawkins' ERA went from 2.92 to 4.97.

The relievers that followed him didn't fare much better. John Halama surrendered two earned runs and three hits over 1 2/3 innings. Jim Brower allowed three hits, including a mammoth two-run homer by Lyle Overbay. After the game, Brower was designated for assignment as part of another bullpen shake-up. The Orioles also optioned Eddy Rodriguez to Triple- A Ottawa and purchased the contracts of Kurt Birkins and Julio Manon of the Lynx.

The loss puts the Orioles (13-14) back under the .500 mark for the first time since April 12. They have dropped seven of their past nine games and now three of four from the third- place Blue Jays (13-11).

Toronto left-hander Ted Lilly shrugged off a two-run first to go 7 2/3 innings and beat the Orioles for the second time in five days. The Orioles are now 1-7 against left-handers this season.

The Blue Jays cut the Orioles' lead to 3-2 on Shea Hillenbrand's RBI single in the sixth inning, but Erik Bedard prevented further damage, getting John McDonald on a liner to Chris Gomez with runners on first and third and two outs.

McDonald was the last batter Bedard would face. The 27-year-old left-hander, who suffered his first loss to the Blue Jays last week after starting the season with four victories, wasn't as sharp as he's been, but he held it together, allowing two runs on seven hits.

But he couldn't go farther than the sixth, leaving the game in the shaky hands of the Orioles bullpen.

Perlozzo said before last night's game, the start of a two- game series with the Blue Jays, that he felt his team was starting to come together. He noticed signs about a week ago, before two home losses to Seattle.

"I really felt good about this club a couple days ago after that first game against Seattle." Perlozzo said. "I felt like we were starting to see signs of becoming a team. Was it the best team in the world? I don't know, but it was the first time in quite a few years that I thought the guys were pulling together as a team.

"They had that feeling amongst themselves that the veterans were moving runners over, and we were at least trying to do little things to help one another out. And then we got hurt. We got hurt bad, so it's up to the rest of us."

Last night's lineup against Lilly did not include second baseman Brian Roberts (on the disabled list with a strained groin), first baseman Kevin Millar (bruised right hand) or designated hitter Javy Lopez (back spasms).

Tejada did play in his 945th straight game, but his hyper-extended left knee forced him into the designated hitter role for just the fourth time in his career. The rest of the Orioles' lineup included four lefties, not exactly an ideal set-up with a left- hander on the mound for the other team.

"What it does to us right now is we can afford fewer mistakes." said Perlozzo, who joked that his job is much easier because of his few options on the bench. "It's going to be tougher to overcome."

The Orioles did jump on Lilly with two runs in the top of the first, as a Melvin Mora walk, a Glaus throwing error on Tejada's grounder and Gibbons' infield single loaded the bases with one out. Hernandez and Jeff Conine connected for RBI singles for a 2-0 lead. Lilly got out of the jam by striking out Nick Markakis and getting Chris Gomez on a fielder's choice.

Glaus made amends for his error by blasting a bases-empty home run to dead center field off Bedard in the second. That was the Blue Jays' only damage on the scoreboard in that in ning, but they did force Bedard to throw 27 pitches.

Hernandez reclaimed the two-run lead for the Orioles by hitting his third home run in the third inning, a bases-empty shot that landed about 10 rows up in the left-field seats.

The Blue Jays threatened the Orioles' 3-1 lead in both the fourth and the fifth. They put two in the fourth, but Overbay hit into a double play. They had men on second and third in the fifth, but Bedard struck out the red-hot Vernon Wells with a high 95-mph fastball.


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