O's throw away start, lose in 9th

August 31, 2008|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Orioles pitching coach Rick Kranitz didn't want to hear about Rocco Baldelli's game-winning ninth-inning double, or the Tampa Bay Rays' latest walkoff victory.

In fact, Kranitz was in no mood for just about anything, including excuses from a pitching staff that is struggling to execute the most fundamental part of its job. In a deflating 10-9 defeat yesterday that ended when Carlos Pena scored all the way from first base on Baldelli's one-out double off Rocky Cherry, Orioles pitchers walked nine batters and hit three more.

That effort ruined another fine offensive showing, capped by Nick Markakis' game-tying solo home run with two outs in the ninth inning, and left Kranitz fuming about the continued struggles of his staff.

"We have major league pitchers here," said Kranitz, his voice noticeably audible in an otherwise silent clubhouse. "You have to throw the ball over the plate. We gave that game away, and you can't continue to give away games at this level. You have to throw the ball over the plate. That's the bottom line. You can't be walking six or seven a game and then hitting two or three, especially in critical situations. You just can't do that.

"The object of the game is to get them to hit the baseball. That's what we need to do, not pitch around them hitting the baseball. If we've got to throw the ball down the middle and we get our [butt] beat, then we get our [butt] beat. But you have to throw the ball over the plate. We can't continue to do this."

As a result, the Orioles (63-72) lost for the ninth time in 11 games and dropped to a season-low nine games under .500. They also fell to 3-10 this season against the Rays and are facing the prospect of a series sweep. They would love to play spoilers to their American League East foes, but subpar pitching hasn't allowed it.

In the back-to-back losses at Tropicana Field, the Orioles have issued an astounding 18 walks, many of them coming in bunches. A day after Jeremy Guthrie walked four straight with two outs, Chris Waters did the very same thing. Waters had gotten two quick outs in the first inning and had Pena down 0-2 before he suddenly lost the ability to throw a strike. He walked Pena, Baldelli, Willy Aybar and Ben Zobrist.

"It's just unexplainable," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said.

Waters, who had 30 people from his native Lakeland in attendance yesterday, acknowledged that he let the atmosphere "overwhelm" him. The Orioles gave him a four-run cushion, thanks to long balls from Jay Payton (a two-run, first-inning shot) and Aubrey Huff (a three-run, third-inning homer, his 30th of the season), but it didn't matter.

The Rays cut the deficit to 7-5 and knocked Waters out of the game with a two-run fifth. They went ahead in the sixth with three runs, a rally that started with Akinori Iwamura's leadoff walk off Lance Cormier. Dennis Sarfate came in and gave up a game-tying two-run double to Pena, threw a wild pitch that pushed Pena to third and allowed him to score on Aybar's double play.

The Orioles tied the score in the seventh on Ramon Hernandez's sacrifice fly, but Sarfate and Alberto Castillo combined to give the run right back in the bottom of the inning. Sarfate allowed a two-out single and hit B.J. Upton with a pitch. Castillo came in and walked Pena to load the bases, then hit Baldelli with a pitch that plated the go-ahead run.

"I think we're making it a whole lot more difficult than we should," Trembley said.

That stood to be the winning run until Markakis drilled closer Dan Wheeler's first pitch nearly off the back wall in right field. Wheeler, apparently thinking the Orioles outfielder did too much admiring of the home run, screamed at Markakis as he rounded the bases.

"I didn't hear anything," Markakis said. "I understand why he's frustrated. But in a situation like that, game-tying home run, it was just a big hit."

Baldelli's double in the bottom of the inning after Pena had walked was even bigger.

"That was a tough one," Trembley said.

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