BOSTON - Lessons continued yesterday for the impressionable Orioles. They were reminded of the value of determination. Then their rookie closer received his first negative experience.
After the Orioles overcame an four-run deficit in mid-game to force extra innings and finally secure a lead, Ryan Kohlmeier dropped his first save opportunity as the Boston Red Sox rallied for two runs and an 8-7 win in 10 innings before 32,273 at Fenway Park.
A twisting drama ended on a taken pitch as Kohlmeier issued a bases-loaded, two-out walk on a full count to Trot Nixon. The walk ended Kohlmeier's run of 11 saves without a blemish after he and his defense nearly completed an incredible escape. Instead, the Orioles were forced to settle for giving themselves a chance to win a game that almost became a mess early.
The 68-87 Orioles have been in a rebuilding mode since July and the third-place-and-falling Red Sox are all but mathematically eliminated from having a chance at the postseason. But the two still conspired for a playoff-quality game.
Down 6-2 after five innings, the Orioles took a 7-6 lead in the top of the 10th inning on Luis Matos' two-out single that scored fellow rookie Chris Richard. The five-run reversal required three rallies with all the runs scoring with two outs. Until Kohlmeier's entrance, the bullpen had allowed only two base runners in four shutout innings.
"They played the game right tonight," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "We didn't give anything away to the Red Sox. The Red Sox earned that victory tonight. You talk about building blocks; this is another one of those building blocks. You hate to lose the game, but there were a number of positives to come out of it. It was worth the experience."
"This team doesn't give up. It doesn't," said second baseman Jerry Hairston, who contributed three of the Orioles' 13 hits. "We play hard, and we give ourselves a chance."
Kohlmeier's sins were admittedly several. Protecting a one-run lead, he began the 10th by walking Nomar Garciaparra. He then fed Troy O'Leary a first-pitch fastball that he drove off the center-field wall for a run-scoring double. O'Leary took third on the play at the plate.
"It's instructive. It reinforces in your mind what not to do," said Kohlmeier (0-1). "You've definitely got to go after guys in that situation. The walk to Garciaparra really hurt. I should have thrown a first-pitch slider to O'Leary. It was obvious I was struggling throwing strikes, and he was probably waiting for me to try to get ahead with a fastball. It is a learning situation every time you go out. But there are lessons you have to learn over and over again."
Hargrove, who ordered two intentional walks with O'Leary on third, went unconventional to preserve the tie and almost won.
Left fielder Delino DeShields was summoned to play between Hairston and shortstop Melvin Mora. Hargrove's picket-fence defense saved the game when pinch hitter Jason Varitek lined through the middle only to have DeShields make a diving, backhanded catch.
The play created the season's most bizarre scorer call - a line out to left field on a ball actually scalded to the right of second base.
Pinch hitter Brian Daubach fouled out to bring the rally to Nixon. A six-pitch sequence ended when Nixon never budged against Kohlmeier's too-low fastball.
"It looked like he was taking all the way. I'm surprised he didn't offer at it," said Kohlmeier. "That's a pretty big risk to take - striking out with the bases loaded. But he guessed right."
Pat Rapp's inconsistent season showed further evidence of running out of gas as he was pounded for six runs and nine hits in five innings, his shortest start since July 29. In his past two outings, Rapp has been crushed for 20 hits and 13 earned runs in 11 innings.
"I couldn't get the ball to the outside corner," said Rapp, whose pitching lifeline is a cutter that rides away from right-handed hitters. "There were too many on the white [of the plate] instead of the black."
Rapp was spared his 13th loss by a stiff bullpen effort and a lineup that didn't quit. The Orioles scratched against Red Sox starting pitcher Rolando Arrojo and six relievers for single runs in the first and fourth innings and two runs apiece in the sixth and seventh. The Orioles were helped by a one-out walk that grew into a sixth-inning run and a two-out error that forced a 6-6 tie in the seventh.
Having homered in the fourth inning, Richard broke a string of ineffective at-bats with runners in scoring position with a two-out double that scored DeShields in the sixth. Mora followed with an RBI single to make it 6-4.
The Orioles extended their two-out magic in the seventh. A walk to Eugene Kingsale ignited a rally in which four consecutive batters reached. Hairston moved Kingsale to third base with the second of his three singles. DeShields then grounded sharply to Garciaparra at short. What should have been an inning-ending force became Garciaparra's error when the ball played him. Kingsale scored and the inning lived. Cal Ripken singled off Derek Lowe to create the tie.
"I've said all along we show up and play hard," said Hargrove. "Our inexperience shows through at times, and we don't play very pretty. But we do play hard, and we are serious about what we're doing. And when we play the game the way we're capable of, we're very competitive."
Opponent: Boston Red Sox
Site: Fenway Park, Boston
Time: 1:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (9-15, 3.97) vs. Red Sox's Tomo Ohka (3-5, 3.54)