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Hulett's return is anything but gradual Infielder involved in pivotal plays Friday


Tim Hulett's first game back certainly wasn't dull.

The Orioles reserve infielder seemed to be in the center of everything Friday night after being welcomed by a sellout crowd with a standing ovation when he first batted during a 13-inning, 5-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians.

The game brought clear evidence that Hulett was ready after he had not played in more than two weeks because of the death of his 6-year-old son Sam following an automobile accident.

"After the first ground ball to me, I kind of relaxed a little bit," he said. "It seemed to take forever to get that one. I really felt comfortable after about the fifth inning.

"You know you've done this [gotten into shape to play] hundreds of times, but it's a matter of overcoming the doubt mentally."

Hulett had the dubious distinction of becoming the third out on a bizarre triple play that ended an Orioles rally in the sixth, but he also made two fine defensive plays, singled home a run, had an infield single and walked.

"I'd rather have made three errors and have us win," he said in the aftermath of the fifth blown save chance by Gregg Olson in his past 12 tries forced extra innings.

"It was a very tough one. We let it get away from us and just didn't finish the game off. There are still a lot of games left, but we would have liked to have had this one."

The defeat cost the Orioles a chance to pull to within two games of the American League East-leading Toronto Blue Jays, a 7-2 loser to the Detroit Tigers on Friday.

There was no time to ease into a return for Hulett, whose previous two hits had been game-winners. Mark McLemore was unavailable because his wife was about to give birth to their first child, and Bill Ripken was still ailing with a sore left shoulder.

"I was a little surprised to see my name in the lineup," Hulett said.

In the sixth, he singled home Randy Milligan to tie the game at 2-2, but then was involved in the rally-stopping triple play that cost the Orioles.

After Brady Anderson flied out to Kenny Lofton in medium-deep left-center field, Leo Gomez was out trying to score on a perfect throw to the plate by Lofton.

Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar then threw to second baseman Carlos Baerga, who had Jeff Tackett in a rundown. Tackett reached second, but Hulett, trying to reach third, was pegged out to complete the 14th triple play against the Orioles and the first at Oriole Park.

Hulett said he "really didn't expect him [Lofton] to go to the plate. I was trying to read the ball to make sure it went over the cutoff man's head because I didn't want to run into an out."

Manager Johnny Oates said Hulett believed the throw would be to third, not the plate, and called the play "a lack of communication."

Indeed, the Orioles had a 4-3 lead after Tackett's run-scoring single before the triple play and protected it into the ninth when Olson was summoned to put the game on ice.

But a double by Mark Whiten, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly by pinch hitter Carlos Martinez forced overtime.

The Indians, 4-0 on the road in extra innings, received sensational bullpen work from five pitchers after the triple play, allowing only three hits in seven scoreless innings and stifling Oriole threats in the 11th and 12th.

In the 13th, Mike Devereaux made a diving attempt to catch Tom Howard's sinking line, but couldn't come up with the ball and Howard had a leadoff double. Baerga advanced Howard with a ground ball and Paul Sorrento singled home the winning run against Alan Mills, who had retired nine straight hitters to start his relief stint.

Oates was disturbed more with his team's poor execution than with the outcome: the lack of clutch hitting, missing a cutoff man and Devereaux' failure to advance a runner from second with none out in the 12th.

"Those type of things hurt you," he said. "I'm not concerned with how many games we're ahead or behind in the standings right now. There's only one day that matters, October 5."

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