Orioles reliever Jason Berken chats with catcher Craig Tatum… (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl…)
Reliever Jason Berken has been so good this season, but it was bound to happen with how much the Orioles have been relying on the converted starter in close games.
"Well, he is human, you know," Orioles interim manager Juan Samuel said after Berken served up a go-ahead two-run homer to Jose Bautista in the eighth inning of a 3-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays before an announced 28,518 at Camden Yards.
What was less excusable to Samuel was his team's lack of execution in clutch spots, particularly in the eighth inning. With the Orioles trailing by a run, Corey Patterson failed to get a bunt down after Cesar Izturis' leadoff single. And after Miguel Tejada's single put runners on the corners with just one out, Nick Markakis bounced into an inning-ending double play.
In the ninth, the Orioles had men on first and second with one out and then the bases loaded with two outs, but Izturis grounded into a game-ending fielder's choice after Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston pulled 21-save closer Kevin Gregg in favor of Shawn Camp.
Despite a strong outing by Jeremy Guthrie, the Orioles (29-61) lost for the eighth time in as many games against the Blue Jays this season and will try to avoid a three-game sweep this afternoon.
"We were put in some situations in the game where we could have scored some runs, and we didn't," Markakis said. "I think we need to do a better job of that when the situation calls for it in the game, including myself."
Markakis acknowledged that he allowed what he felt was a bad call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds on Scott Downs' 1-0 pitch in the eighth inning affect the rest of his at-bat. Markakis hit Downs' next pitch right at shortstop Yunel Escobar, who turned the double play.
"I was frustrated," Markakis said. "I could have been in a good position there, 2-0. It didn't work out that way. He called it a strike; I disagreed with it. As it stands, I was 1-1 instead of 2-0."
There was more drama in the ninth after Gregg struck out Ty Wigginton for a quick first out. He then issued back-to-back walks to Adam Jones and Felix Pie.
Pinch hitter Scott Moore, who hadn't faced live pitching in seven full days, swung at Gregg's first pitch and popped out to left field.
Gregg then walked Julio Lugo to load the bases, prompting Gaston to remove him from the game. The closer, who has converted 21 of 24 save opportunities this season, including a six-pitch save the previous night, stared incredulously at Gaston and then had some words for his manager before leaving the mound.
But Camp needed just two pitches to retire Izturis on the ground ball. Samuel had Josh Bell and Jake Fox available on his bench, but he decided to stay with the light-hitting shortstop, who had driven in the Orioles' two runs with a bases-loaded single off starter Brandon Morrow in the fifth.
"We thought Izturis was going to get the job done for us," Samuel said. "He came up with a big hit for us with the bases loaded. So there was no doubt in my mind."
Morrow won his first game on the road in 10 tries this season. Entering the night, he had been 0-5 with a 6.80 ERA in nine road starts this season compared with 5-1 and a 3.27 ERA at Rogers Centre. He hadn't pitched more than six innings in any road start this season, but he went seven Saturday night.
His counterpart, Guthrie, deserved better. On the first pitch he threw, Fred Lewis took him over the center-field wall. That seemed to foreshadow another tough night for the struggling starter, who had allowed four earned runs or more in six of his previous eight starts.
However, Guthrie turned in one of his best starts, getting out of a first-and-third jam with no outs in the fourth on his way to pitching 62/3 strong innings. Relying largely on a fastball that was consistently in the mid-90s, Guthrie struck out six and walked only one.
He left the mound to a standing ovation in the seventh and then watched Will Ohman hold the one-run deficit by striking out Lewis. However, in the eighth, Berken -- who leads American League relievers with 522/3 innings pitched and entered Saturday with a 1.95 ERA -- allowed a leadoff single to Escobar and then watched Bautista turn around a 1-0 fastball and deposit it into the visiting bullpen at Camden Yards. It was Bautista's major league-leading 25th homer of the season.
"It was just right over the middle of the plate," Berken said. "He's obviously got some good power. The guy tends to hit the ball over the plate, and that's what I did. It's just unfortunate for Jeremy. He pitched a great game, and it's my job to go in there and hold it where it's at and I wasn't able to. He deserved to win tonight."
Guthrie's winless streak extended to nine starts and dates to May 25.
"The bullpen has been phenomenal for us," he said. "You put a hot bullpen against a hot hitter in Bautista, in which a long ball seems to happen for him if you make any slight mistake. We'll take our chances with a lead in the seventh or eighth, put the same guys in there."
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