Complete waste for Leicester

Pitcher goes distance, but team strands eight

Rangers 3 Orioles 0

September 24, 2007|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN REPORTER

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The game ended essentially how it started: with pinch hitter Melvin Mora grounding into a double play, just as Miguel Tejada had done in the first inning to take away a scoring opportunity.

In between, the Orioles had plenty of chances to get on the scoreboard and reward Jon Leicester's solid pitching performance in their final road game of the season. But they stranded eight base runners, hit into three double plays and went hitless in seven at-bats with runners in scoring position.

The result was a lackadaisical 3-0 loss to Kevin Millwood and the Texas Rangers before an announced 37,812 yesterday afternoon at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

After being shut out for the fourth time in 22 games this month, the Orioles (66-89) last night returned home, where they will play seven games at Camden Yards and mercifully bring their season to an end. They finished with a 34-47 record away from home, which was four games better than last season's mark.

They will need to go 4-3 on the final homestand, which features tonight's makeup game against the Kansas City Royals and three games each against the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees, to match their overall record last season.

"Today wasn't as tough as the whole last month has been," said designated hitter Aubrey Huff, who went 0-for-4 and didn't get the ball out of the infield. "It was a rough month. I guess we're just going to have to go back home and play as hard as we can the next seven games and hopefully finish strong and then regroup next season."

That's all that's left for the Orioles and first-year manager Dave Trembley, who started several of his younger players and watched them get mostly overmatched by Millwood, a veteran right-hander who has 133 career wins.

Trembley kept Mora, second baseman Brian Roberts, catcher Ramon Hernandez and left fielder Jay Payton out of the starting lineup in the finale of a 10-game trip on which the Orioles finished 4-6. Instead, he gave Scott Moore, Luis Hernandez, J.R. House and Freddie Bynum opportunities to play. The four combined to go 2-for-13 with four strikeouts and a double play.

"Some of the younger guys, he had a little bit too much experience for [them]," Trembley said of Millwood, who allowed seven hits and struck out five in seven shutout innings. "We pitched well enough to win."

Trembley thought one of the turning points was in the first inning when the Orioles had men on first and third bases with one out against Millwood and Tejada hit a slow roller to third that turned into an inning-ending double play.

"If we would've gotten on the board in the first inning, it may have been a different game," Trembley said.

The Orioles had men on second and third with two outs in the second when Millwood struck out Bynum. They had men on first and third with one out in the fifth, but Hernandez got anxious and bounced into a double play. Kevin Millar, who had three hits, was also stranded after a two-out double in the fourth.

Huff squandered the Orioles' last good scoring chance in the eighth, grounding out to the catcher with men on second and third and two outs.

After their bullpen was called on to get 19 outs the previous night, the Orioles needed a long outing from Leicester, who was making just his fifth major league start and his fourth this season for the Orioles.

He turned in his first career complete game, limiting the Rangers (72-84) to three earned runs on seven hits and two hit batters in eight innings.

Leicester (2-3) allowed two of the runs in the second inning, when the Rangers' Jason Botts started a two-out rally with a double. Nelson Cruz followed with a bloop triple down the right-field line, and Cruz then scored on catcher Gerald Laird's infield single.

Laird hit a ball that first baseman Millar ranged far to his right to field and then flipped to Leicester, who broke late to cover the bag and didn't touch it once he arrived.

That was one of the few things Trembley could find fault with in Leicester's effort.

"I always thought he was going to be either a fifth starter or a guy in the middle because he could command the fastball even when he was in A ball and he had movement," said Trembley, who compared Leicester to a right-handed Brian Burres. "Jon's done a very nice job since he's had an opportunity. I think he'll be a candidate coming into camp."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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