It could have been one of the more uplifting games of the Orioles' disappointing season, a stirring effort by a makeshift lineup and a patched-together bullpen.
Instead, Saturday's 5-4, ninth-inning meltdown loss to the Toronto Blue Jays was just another one that got away in a year of innumerable missed opportunities.
This one ended with another implosion by closer Kevin Gregg, who blew his seventh save in 27 chances and third in his past six opportunities.
"The guys did an outstanding job. The whole team put together a great effort today. Unfortunately, I spoiled it at the end," said Gregg, who allowed two runs in the bottom of the ninth on two singles, a walk, a wild pitch and a hit batter.
The Orioles (58-86) had a chance to guarantee a series win at Rogers Centre for the first time since June 2008, but now must win Sunday's rubber match against the Blue Jays (73-73) to accomplish that.
"I think there are a lot of great things that went on in that game today that I'll dwell on without having blinders on," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "But I'm sure our clubhouse is frustrated about not finishing it off. Right there is a game that could have gone either way."
Of the 16 Orioles who appeared in Saturday's contest, only four -- Nick Markakis, Vladimir Guerrero, Robert Andino and Gregg -- were on the club's 2011 Opening Day roster.
With a day game after a night game and a brutal recent schedule, Showalter rested regulars Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds and scratched Adam Jones before the first pitch because of a swollen left ankle.
Led by Guerrero's three hits -- including a run-scoring double in the eighth that broke a tie at 3 -- the Orioles managed to out-hit the Blue Jays 12-5. They could have scored another run in the third, when Chris Davis was thrown out trying to score from second on a single.
Ultimately, they couldn't create more breathing room for the enigmatic Gregg (0-3).
With a 4-3 lead and one out in the ninth, the beleaguered closer entered and struck out rookie Brett Lawrie before failing to secure the game-ending out. Gregg allowed a wild pitch to tie the game, and pinch-hitter J.P. Arencibia singled home pinch-runner Chris Woodward for the Jays' victory.
"Obviously, I struck out the first guy and then go out there and end up walking a guy, a ground-ball base hit, hit a guy and another base hit," Gregg said. "Obviously, you start strong and then that happens. Yeah, it wasn't good."
Gregg's outing ruined an impressive run by five Orioles relievers -- Zach Phillips, Chris Jakubauskas, Troy Patton, Willie Eyre and Clay Rapada -- who combined for six scoreless and hitless innings.
"We were definitely aware of what was going on down there. We knew the innings were stacking up, scorelesswise," said Jakubauskas, who pitched one perfect inning. "You feed off the last guy. The last guy has gone 22/3 scoreless, you kind of want to jump on his back and see how many zeros you can throw up in a row."
That bullpen quintet -- none of whom was with the team on Opening Day -- allowed one walk and struck out four in relief of starter Rick VandenHurk, who lasted just 21/3 innings in his first big league start since last September.
VandenHurk gave up three runs on two walks, a hit batter and three hits, including homers by Jose Bautista (his major league-leading 41st this year) and Lawrie (his ninth since an Aug. 5 call-up and fourth versus the Orioles). VandenHurk threw only 25 of his 53 pitches for strikes.
"Overall, I didn't throw enough strikes; that's what it comes down to," VandenHurk said. "Everybody saw the ball-strike ratio. It's not good enough."
The game's outcome, though, hinged on Gregg, a former Blue Jay who was being taunted with chants of "Gregg, you [stink]" by some in the announced crowd of 17,742.
"You've got to roll with the punches. Save opps [have] been coming at a premium, so it is something you've got to deal with," Gregg said. "It's not the first one I've messed up, and it probably won't be the last one."
NOTES: Jones, who fouled a ball off his ankle Friday night but remained in the game, said the swelling increased overnight, but he was hoping to play Sunday. Showalter had to shift Saturday's lineup around, inserting Josh Bell at third base while moving Nick Markakis from first to right field, Matt Angle from right to center and Chris Davis from third to first. Right-hander Jason Berken (right forearm/elbow) is expected to be activated from the disabled list Monday. He was scheduled to fly into Baltimore after a final side session in Sarasota, Fla., on Saturday. Shortstop Pedro Florimon made his big league debut Saturday and went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and committed an error. He nearly had his first hit on a sacrifice bunt in the second inning but was called out at first. Replays showed he appeared to be safe.
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