Gonzalez's breakdown in 9th spoils home opener for Orioles

Blue Jays 7, Orioles 6

New closer can't hold one-run lead, blows second save in three chances

  • Orioles closer Michael Gonzalez hangs his head after giving up the go-ahead run in the ninth against the Blue Jays.
Orioles closer Michael Gonzalez hangs his head after giving… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
April 09, 2010|By Jeff Zrebiec | jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

An afternoon that started with the capacity crowd cheering Orioles of past and present ended with merciless boos raining down on struggling closer Michael Gonzalez and the possibility that leadoff hitter Brian Roberts is headed to the disabled list.

Presented with a one-run lead afterpinch runner Felix Pie scored from first on Cesar Izturis' eighth-inning single, Gonzalez imploded, and it cost the Orioles in an ugly 7-6 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in their home opener.

A day after he stranded the bases loaded to convert a save and three days after he blew a save on Opening Day, Gonzalez issued a leadoff walk to Edwin Encarnacion and then a game-tying double to Travis Snider. After a sacrifice bunt moved Snider to third, Jose Bautista drove in the eventual game-winning run with a sacrifice fly.

Orioles manager Dave Trembley then removed Gonzalez from the game, giving an announced 48,891, the largest Opening Day crowd in Camden Yards history, plenty of time to let the closer hear what they thought of his performance.

"They brought me over here to close games, and I haven't done it," said Gonzalez, who has allowed four earned runs, five hits and four walks in a total of two innings. "I go out and get 10 straight, 11 straight, and you're not hearing the boos anymore. That's not the problem for me. The problem for me is the way the guys are playing. The guys are playing great baseball. They can hang with anybody in the league right now. They're getting it done. I just need to go out and do my part."

For now, Trembley said, he plans to stick with Gonzalez, but the closer situation is hardly his only worry. Roberts was removed from the game following the first inning after he suffered an abdominal strain while stealing second base.

Trembley said he should know more Saturday, and Roberts, who is also dealing with a herniated disk in his back, left the clubhouse before reporters were allowed in.

A potential trip to the disabled list for Roberts, coupled with Gonzalez's meltdown, certainly marred the home opener, which began with Roberts, Nick Markakis and Brian Matusz getting loud ovations during introductions. The biggest cheers of the day were saved for Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell, who threw out the ceremonial first pitches in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Orioles' 1970 World Series championship.

"It's a heartbreaking loss," Trembley said. "The bottom line is today is a game you have to win and you don't do it. You get the last three outs, and everything is forgotten."

It was just the Orioles' second loss in their past 10 home openers, and it dropped them to 1-3 on the season with all the defeats coming by one run. Overall, the Orioles have allowed at least one run in the eighth inning or later in each of their four games and given up a total of six eighth- or ninth-inning runs.

"We have to quickly nip it in the bud," said left-hander Mark Hendrickson, who threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of a shaky Brad Bergesen (five runs allowed in 4 2/3 innings). "It's one of those things; in those four games, we had the opportunity to win all four. Good teams find ways to win -- whatever that calls for on that particular night."

Third baseman Miguel Tejada had three hits and drove in four runs, two on a fifth-inning homer that tied the score at 5. However, he struck out against Kevin Gregg to end the game.

Gonzalez signed a two-year, $12 million deal this offseason, so the Orioles are going to give him opportunities to figure it out.

"It's definitely not the way I wanted to start off, but I have the utmost confidence in my ability," he said. "There's no doubt in my mind that I can get the job done."

Before he gave up the ball to Trembley, Gonzalez got pats on the back from Tejada and second baseman Julio Lugo. Several other Orioles spoke after the game about the need to support the closer.

"I am sorry for what has happened to him," Tejada said. "We are all teammates, and we have got to be behind him. It's a long season, it's an everyday game and the only thing I told him is he's got to be strong. He's got to go in the video [room] and see what he did wrong and come back tomorrow strong."

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