SAN DIEGO — A rare clutch hit finally came in the top of the ninth inning when Julio Lugo dropped a two-out single into left field in front of a diving Scott Hairston, scoring Ty Wigginton from second base and giving the Orioles a rare late-inning lead.
But if there's been another main contributing factor to the Orioles' awful start other than a punchless offense, it's been a failure to get outs late in games.
On Friday, it was David Hernandez's turn to squander a one-run lead in the ninth inning and what would have been a feel-good victory against baseball's surprise team. Hernandez gave up the tying run on David Eckstein's single and then game-winner on Adrian Gonzalez's third hit as the San Diego Padres beat the Orioles 3-2 at PETCO Park and celebrated their eighth walk-off win this season.
"It was a very, very hard one to digest," said Juan Samuel, who is now 3-10 as the Orioles' interim manager. "We did everything possible we could to score a run in that [ninth] inning. Guys battled hard and to see it end that way, it's tough."
For the Orioles (18-49), it was their 12th blown save in just 23 chances and the first for Hernandez, the former starter who had converted his first two save chances. And it was certainly more painful than many of the losses during this brutal stretch of 25 defeats in their last 31 games.
"Definitely the blame's on me," said Hernandez. "I could have made better pitches, especially when I was ahead in the count."
Hernandez allowed four hits in the ninth, but a four-pitch leadoff walk to Chase Headley was the at-bat that he lamented most.
"I didn't even get a pitch near the strike zone," Hernandez said. "He didn't even have to bring a bat up to the plate."
After the walk, former Oriole Jerry Hairston Jr. singled to right field and then Aaron Cunningham, trying to just move the two runners over, reached base on the bunt when Hernandez was late getting to the ball and then his throw pulled Lugo off the first-base bag.
With the bases loaded and no outs, Hernandez got a big strikeout of Nick Hundley before Eckstein punched a single to right to tie the game. Pinch hitter Tony Gwynn couldn't get the winning run home as Orioles first baseman Ty Wigginton made a nice lunging play on his groundball and then got the out at home. However, Gonzalez, the Padres' best hitter, lined Hernandez's first pitch, a 96-mph fastball into right field to end the game.
"That's really tough because we played well the whole game," said Orioles starter Brian Matusz who pitched well again but didn't get a decision and now is winless since April 18, a span of 11 starts. "We battled through, we played good defense, we got a key hit in a key situation. We played good baseball and to see it end like that was tough. David's been doing really well for us, just got a couple bad breaks. It hurt to see a game end like that because it felt like we should have won the game."
Pitching in front of several family and friends and not far from the University of San Diego, where he pitched in college, Matusz certainly did his part, allowing just one run on six hits and a walk over six innings.
Matusz, admittedly pumped to be back pitching in San Diego, didn't have his best command, throwing 64 pitches by the end of the third. But he ultimately settled down and easily could have turned in six scoreless had center fielder Adam Jones been able to make a play on Gonzalez's deep drive in the sixth. Instead, Jones got turned around and then fell down and Chris Denorfia scored easily from second to tie the game.
"I've learned a lot being able to slow the game down in key situations, being able to make my pitch," said Matusz who is 0-2 with a 2.30 ERA in his last four starts. "I feel like I've got in a pretty good groove. I feel like I had good stuff today, but was pretty erratic."
Matusz certainly could use a little run support, but the same holds true for all the Orioles' starters. The Orioles have scored three runs or fewer while Matusz has been in the game in 12 of his 14 starts. They've been held to one run or fewer in seven of them.
On Friday, they scored a run in the fourth on Padres lefty Wade LeBlanc, thanks to three straight singles, the last one by Wigginton. But with men on first and second and still no outs in the inning, Jones fouled out and the struggling Matt Wieters bounced into a double play.
They had very few chances until the ninth when Wigginton drew a leadoff walk against All-Star closer Heath Bell. Jones bunted him over and after Wieters flied out, Lugo blooped a single into left.
All the Orioles needed to do was close the game.
"It was just frustrating that I couldn't close it out, but tomorrow's another day," Hernandez said.