ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The biggest given for the Orioles over the first three months of the season -- Lee Smith taking the mound for the ninth inning -- suddenly has turned into the scariest.
And did it ever turn in a hurry.
Mark McGwire the day before the All-Star break. Fred McGriff in theAll-Star Game. Bo Jackson last night.
Three home runs. Three blown saves. One giant headache for the Orioles, who lost, 4-3, when the Angels scored two runs off of Smith (1-3) in the ninth. Spike Owen tripled to left to score Gary DiSarcina from first base.
Smith took the mound in the ninth last night in search of his 31st save, which would have preserved Mike Mussina's 14th victory.
Homering for the second night in a row, Jackson tied the score PTC 3-3 when he drove Smith's 0-1 fastball over the right field fence for his ninthhome run and fourth career pinch hit home run.
Smith has blown five save opportunities this season and has allowed four home runs. All four homers -- Troy Neel and McGwire of Oakland, Tony Phillips of Detroit and Jackson -- have resulted in blown saves.
Smith has allowed a run in each of his past four appearances, excluding the All-Star Game.
L No fewer than 27 of his first 32 appearances were scoreless.
The Orioles lost a game in the standings to the Yankees, who opened a 1 1/2 -game lead with 9-3 win over Seattle.
Rafael Palmeiro homered and singled in the go-ahead run and Chris Sabo homered for the third consecutive night and the fourth time in five games, reaching double figures for the season.
Mussina (13-4, 2.97), whose last start before the All-Star break was delayed two days to give his sore shoulder blade muscles extra rest, allowed two runs and seven hits in seven innings, didn't walk anybody and struck out five. He threw 98 pitches and did not take the mound for the eighth inning, giving way to Alan Mills, who worked himself into and out of a jam.
Palmeiro homered in the first inning and broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh when he singled up the middle to score Mark McLemore from second with the winning run.
Angels left-hander Chuck Finley and Mussina pitched to a 2-2 tie until the Orioles turned two walks, a bunt and a single into a run.
Tim Hulett led off with a walk and Mike Devereaux sacrificed pinch runner McLemore to second, thanks to Finley bobbling the bunt. After McLemore stole third, Finley struck out Brady Anderson, then walked Sabo, bringing Palmeiro up with runners on the corners.
Palmeiro has thoroughly abused the Angels' ragged pitching staff allseason, hitting .512 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in 11 games against the Angels, so it came as no surprise that he produced when it counted.
So did Jackson when it counted even more.
The Angels cut the lead in half in the fifth when Greg Myers led off with a double center fielder Devereaux nearly ran down. J.T. Snow singled him home.
The Angels tied it with a run in the sixth when Tim Salmon scored on Jim Edmonds' sacrifice fly to left. Salmon had reached on a one-out single to left and taken third on Chili Davis' single to right. After Davis stole second without drawing a throw, Mussina got out of the inning by striking out Myers on a changeup that traveled more slowly than O.J.'s Bronco.
Mussina, pitching on seven days' rest one start after pitching with six days of rest, helped himself with a bold first-inning decision and caught a break from third base umpire Mike Reilly.
Chad Curtis led off the first with a double down the line that got past the diving Sabo.
Spike Owen followed with a grounder to the first base side of the mound. Mussina pounced on it and, surprisingly, decided to try to get the lead runner instead of the sure out.
It paid off for Mussina, one of the game's top fielding pitchers. But it wouldn't have without the help of Reilly, who called Curtis out, though replays clearly showed Sabo's tag was late.
Two fly balls later, Mussina was out of the inning and on his way to astring of 11 consecutive outs.
Curtis' tough night with the arbiters didn't stop there. He was ejected in the fifth inning arguing a called third strike, his first ejection of the season and the fifth overall for the Angels.
Mussina's early innings progressed more smoothly and so did Sabo's.
Sabo has wrested the everyday third base job back from Leo Gomez, who won the job from Sabo during the latter's stay on the disabled list with a back strain.
Gomez, a player prone to hot streaks and prolonged slumps, is in the midst of one of his long dry spells.
Going into last night's game, Gomez had 10 hits in 66 at-bats (.152) in his last 18 games.
For now, Gomez fills the role Sabo filled when he returned from the DL. He is the designated hitter against left-handed pitchers, shelving, at least temporarily, the Sabo outfield experiment.
In three of his past four appearances, including the All-Star Game, Lee Smith has blown a save opportunity and allowed a home run. A breakdown of his past four appearances:
Date .. Opp. .. Inn. .. H .. ER .. HR
7/10 .. Oak. ... 1 .. . 3 ... 2 ... 1
7/12 .. NL . . . 1. . . 1 ... 1 ... 1
7/14 .. Cal. ... 1 .. . 1 ... 1 ... 0
7/15 .. Cal. ... 2/3 .. . 3 ... 2 ... 1