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Hargrove is a distance runner; Long-range vision leads him to lose a lead but save his top relievers


CHICAGO -- Manager Mike Hargrove and pitching coach Sammy Ellis viewed Sunday night's 11-inning, 3-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics as a necessary evil.

While blowing a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning rarely implies anything positive, Hargrove and Ellis emphasized that the game was an example of how long-term interest sometimes trumps short-term gain during a season.

After Mike Trombley gave up the game-tying home run to light-hitting catcher Ramon Hernandez, Hargrove turned to long reliever Tim Worrell to pitch the 10th and 11th innings rather than risk burning up closer Mike Timlin or left-handed setup man Buddy Groom, both of whom had appeared in three straight games.

"Sometimes instead of managing for now, you have to manage for ... later," Hargrove said before last night's series opener against the Chicago White Sox.

"We very well could have won that game with Timlin and Groom. Then again, maybe not," said Ellis. "But the long-term loss could easily have outweighed the short-term gain."

Such perspective isn't easy to maintain as the Orioles' bullpen builds upon a combustible reputation. While 11-6 before last night, the bullpen had blown five saves and squandered four leads after the seventh inning, including one of five runs, two of three runs and Sunday's one-run slip.

"I think it goes both ways," said Trombley in the bullpen's defense. "I'm sure we've lost some we should've won. But who knows? Maybe those couple losses kicked us in the butt a little bit to get us going."

The kicks in the backside are starting to feel like kicks in the head. With a decision looming on when to activate starting pitcher Scott Erickson, Hargrove and vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift must soon address which pitcher will go.

Starter Jose Mercedes has options remaining but is considered a good fit as a long reliever. Calvin Maduro has no options and is thought too valuable to expose to irrevocable waivers. Worrell and veteran left-hander Chuck McElroy also are without options.

The Orioles could pursue the path of least resistance by inserting Erickson in Jason Johnson's slot. Johnson pitched six innings in Sunday's loss but was outpitched by both Mercedes and Maduro this spring.

Thrift, critical of the bullpen in Minnesota 11 days ago, sidestepped the issue last night.

Numbers didn't take the night off. Entering last night's game, the bullpen had allowed 31 runs in 31 1/3 innings covering the previous 11 games.

"We're OK. It kind of goes in cycles. Some guys will throw good, other guys won't," said Trombley. "The whole idea is to pick each other up. We're OK. We won six in a row. It should have been seven. Now we'll start another streak in Chicago."

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