If nothing else over the past two days at sun-drenched Angel Stadium, the Orioles succeeded in putting on clinics on how to blow four-run leads in the middle innings.
On Saturday, it was two defensive miscues, coupled with an all-around implosion by a tiring bullpen that resulted in a disheartening defeat. In Sunday's 9-6 loss in front of an announced 35,912, Orioles pitchers lost touch with the strike zone at the most inopportune times as a chance to secure a four-game series split went by the wayside.
The Angels broke open a tie game in the bottom of the seventh inning with three runs despite getting only one hit. With manager Dave Trembley's bullpen options down to a precious few, struggling reliever Chris Ray was summoned with the bases loaded and no outs, inheriting Matt Albers' mess.
Ray promptly walked the only two batters he faced, bringing in two runs. He then returned to Baltimore after the game to have his right shoulder examined, the latest blow to his trying season.
"What happens is the usage of your bullpen is a direct reflection of what your starters do," Trembley said. "We talked a little bit before the game. When your starters are up in pitches and continually not holding leads, then you've got to go to your bullpen night after night after night. It makes it tough on everybody. It's hard to just get situations where the game's not on the line. The game has been on the line every time."
In the past two games, the Orioles' bullpen has logged 6 2/3 innings and given up 10 earned runs, 12 hits and six walks. That's a major reason the Angels scored 24 runs in the series in the fifth inning or later. And the Orioles (36-46) have dropped six of their past eight contests.
"Those are hard games," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "If you just get your butt kicked from the beginning, sometimes it's easier to handle. But to feel like you're going to win two games and not do it, that certainly is a little bit more frustrating."
It was Roberts, who was involved in the two defensive gaffes Saturday, who got the Orioles started Sunday. He pounded Angels starter Joe Saunders' third pitch of the game over the wall in left-center field, the first time he has led off a game with a homer since April 2, 2008, and his first homer from the right side since July 1 of last year.
Roberts added a two-run double in the Orioles' three-run third inning off Saunders, who entered the game 5-0 in his career against Baltimore. With a 4-0 lead in the third inning, the same advantage Orioles rookie starter Jason Berken enjoyed in the fifth Saturday, Rich Hill started to falter.
Bobby Abreu doubled home Erick Aybar and Chone Figgins, who had walked. Torii Hunter then ripped a double to score Abreu and cut the Orioles' lead to 4-3. After Robert Andino's sacrifice fly made it 5-3, Hill came out for the fifth and issued a one-out walk to Abreu and a two-run homer to Vladimir Guerrero that tied the score.
"To me, it was just a bad pitch on my part," Hill said. "I thought I should have went maybe with the curveball there or the changeup. It's 20-20 when you look back on it.
"I thought I was throwing the ball very well. It's just the way baseball goes sometimes."
The Orioles reclaimed the lead again in the top of the sixth on Matt Wieters' third home run, an opposite-field shot off Saunders into the right-center-field seats. Wieters went 3-for-3 with a walk and two runs.
But the Orioles again didn't hold it. In the bottom of the sixth, Hill surrendered a one-out single to Kendry Morales before he was pulled in favor of Albers. Aybar greeted Albers with a game-tying single. Albers then sandwiched walks of Abreu and Guerrero around a double by Hunter in the seventh before Ray came in and couldn't throw strikes, walking Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli on 12 total pitches.
Though not condoning his relievers' failures, Trembley lamented his starters inability to get deep into the game. Hill allowed six runs, six hits and four walks over 5 1/3 innings.
"I'm positive and confident," said Hill, who has given up six earned runs or more in three straight starts and has a 7.43 ERA. "I threw the ball well today."
Trembley saw things differently. "I would say the earned runs are a direct reflection of where his pitches are," he said. "Most of the pitches that are getting hit are pitches that don't have finish on them."