By Jeff Zrebiec
Baltimore Sun reporter
8:41 AM EDT, August 21, 2011
What should have been an uplifting victory turned into one of the most deflating losses of the season as closer Kevin Gregg and young third baseman Josh Bell played starring roles in a collapse that only these Orioles could make look so routine.
Called on to protect a two-run lead in the 12th inning, Gregg didn't retire any of the five hitters that he faced and grudgingly handed the ball to manager Buck Showalter with the bases loaded and no outs and the game already tied. Bobby Abreu won it for the Angels with a sacrifice fly to deep center off Troy Patton, the 9-8 defeat further extending the misery of the Orioles, who have to wonder if they'll ever win a series again.
"It's not devastating. I mean there are things devastating in your life, OK in the world. It's a tough loss for us, but we get to do it again -- we have to do it again -- around the corner," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "A lot of professional at-bats, a lot of things to be proud of, we just didn't get it done at the end."
The unsightly bottom of the 12th inning included Gregg allowing a leadoff single on a two-strike pitch to Erick Aybar, hitting Mike Trout with a wayward breaking ball, and walking Alberto Callaspo with the bases loaded to bring in the tying run.
It also included Bell throwing away what should have been the inning's first out after fielding Hank Conger's sacrifice bunt. Bell's throw was high and wide of first baseman Mark Reynolds, bringing in a run and putting the tying run at third. Bell then failed to get an out after making a diving stop on Peter Bourjos' ground ball, taking too long to look the runner back to third and make the throw against a speedy baserunner.
Those two gaffes by Bell were clearly Gregg's focus after the game, not his own struggles in blowing his fifth save in 22 opportunities. Gregg has now given up runs in three of his past four appearances. In two of those games, he's faced five or more hitters and not gotten an out.
"You got to take care of the baseball," Gregg said. "Sacrifice bunt and you throw it away. You have Bourjos running down to first. You have to know about his speed. Obviously, a questionable call at first base. If both of those things are done, you're looking at a different situation. It's part of the game. You have to move forward."
Bell, who had a forgettable night, going 0-for-4 with three strikeouts to go along with the defensive gaffes, did take some accountability.
"Things like that can't happen in those situations," said Bell, acknowledging that he has to get rid of the ball on Bourjos' grounder sooner, and the errant throw on Conger's bunt slipped out of his hand. "You come to the park and you expect the best and things don't go your way at the end. We had them down at the end, we scored two runs. We just didn't finish it."
As a result, the Orioles have lost seven consecutive one-run games. They've dropped four straight overall and they are a season-worst 29 games under .500 at 47-76. They now have eight different losing streaks of four games or more and they've assured themselves of a 15th straight winless series.
They haven't won a series since taking two of three from the Cincinnati Reds from June 24 to 26. They haven't won a road series since taking two of three from the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field May 13 to 15. Now, they're left trying to avoid a three-game sweep by the Angels Sunday.
"It just sucks," said Orioles starter Tommy Hunter, who allowed six earned runs in 6 1/3 innings, and needed just two innings to squander a 3-0 lead created by the Orioles' three-run second inning off Angels right-hander Joel Pineiro. "There's no other word you can really put to it. When your team goes out and they fight for you, it's tough to be on the [losing end]. You look back at the first inning, the second inning, the third inning, what differences could have been made to where it doesn't even go to extra innings. And like I said, it all starts with your starter."
Trailing 6-4 heading into the eighth inning, the Orioles tied the game against the Angels bullpen as Vladimir Guerrero followed consecutive singles by Nick Markakis and Adam Jones with an RBI groundout to bring the visitors within a run, and then Matt Wieters greeted All-Star closer Jordan Walden with a game-tying RBI single.
The game then became a battle of the bullpens, and for five innings, the Orioles held up well. Michael Gonzalez got both batters that he faced, and then Jim Johnson relieved him and retired eight of nine batters. His three-inning outing was his longest since he went 3 1/3 to get a save against the New York Yankees on April 19, 2008. Chris Jakubauskas followed Johnson and pitched a perfect 11th inning.
Meanwhile, the Orioles offense kept squandering scoring opportunities. The Orioles had the leadoff man on in the seventh, ninth, 10th and 11 innings and never scored. Three of those innings ended with double plays.
Their biggest missed opportunity came in the ninth when Robert Andino drew a leadoff walk and then stole second base with no outs. However, Nolan Reimold failed to get him to third, popping out to center before Bell struck out looking and J.J. Hardy grounded out.
"We had some guys that don't have much experience that weren't able to execute," Showalter said. "They aren't the only ones, but we got man on second in some situations, you got to be able to move the runner at least 90 feet. Or one out, man on third, at least put the ball in play. And we don't do it."
The Orioles finally broke through in the top of the 12th when Adam Jones, who already had three hits, including a homer, drove a Fernando Rodney pitch into right field. The two-out single scored Bell from second, and Hardy scored all the way from first when Torii Hunter's throw sailed high and wide of home.
All that was left was for Gregg to get three outs while protecting the 8-6 lead. But like only the Orioles seemingly can, they found a way to implode.
Asked how tough it was to lose a game like this, Gregg said, "About as tough as it was to watch probably. There was a lot of stuff going on in that inning. Obviously, we were on the wrong side of things. We have to take care of the baseball and give ourselves a chance."
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