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This is what they call in the literary business -- a theme.

Orioles unheralded starter pitches gritty game against imposing foe. Struggling offense has just enough firepower to give Baltimore a slim lead. Late in the game, pitching coach Leo Mazzone's clicker counter hits some magic number and manager Sam Perlozzo brings on the bullpen. Poof. O's lose.

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The salient facts. Orioles' surprise pitching phenom Jeremy Guthrie (yep, him again) pitched eight innings of three-hit, two-run ball (one earned) against the AL West-leading Angels. After 88 pitches by Guthrie, closer Chris Ray came on to protect a 3-2 lead but gave up a two-run homer to Vladimir Guerrero in the bottom of the ninth. The 4-3 loss dropped Baltimore to  a familiar place, three games under .500.

I told you we were going to miss Kansas City.

Line of the day came from Perlozzo when asked if he had seen a replay to see whether Guerrero had hit a good pitch: "I didn't see it. Once is enough."

Oh, by the way. We don't have to worry about Ray's pitch count. It took him just seven to blow his fourth save attempt in 16 tries.

* The Yankees, who must feel as if they're in their own version of Waiting for Godot as Roger Clemens' much-anticipated debut is delayed once again, put the brakes on a slide into oblivion by taking two of three from Boston over the weekend, including a 6-5 win last night. Alex Rodriguez, a lightning A-Rod (couldn't resist) all weekend for the taunts of Bosox fans, hammered a homer in the top of the ninth.

Clemens has a "fatigued groin" and his first start has been pushed back to next weekend against Pittsburgh. At this rate, his prorated $28 million salary might be reduced to just seven figures. But seriously, think about this: The Yanks are 12 1/2 games behind Boston and the guy who's supposed to bail them out is already recovering from an injury before he's even thrown a major league pitch this year.

* Former(?) University of Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan may or may not have changed his mind about taking the job as coach of the NBA Orlando Magic. In a story that shifts by the minute, Donovan is reported to be having grave doubts about taking the pro job. Donovan was hired Thursday and introduced Friday.

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