CLEVELAND - The Cleveland Indians did their best to spoil Mike Hargrove's homecoming last night, scoring four runs in the ninth inning to deal their former manager a 6-5 loss.
Matt Lawton's two-run homer off Orioles closer Jorge Julio capped the two-out comeback by the Indians, whose four runs in the ninth were all unearned.
The Orioles (18-20) received six strong innings from Scott Erickson and another home run by Tony Batista but still had their losing streak extended to three games.
After going eight straight games without an error, the Orioles committed one in the ninth and it proved very costly. Batis ta's two-out throwing error opened the door to four unearned runs off Julio (2-2).
Erickson held Cleveland to two runs on seven hits in his first start since May 8, when he left after two-plus innings with a slightly strained right groin. In an encouraging sign, Erickson's velocity actually seemed to increase in the later innings, as his fastball readings went from about 88 mph to as high as 91 mph in the sixth.
Erickson was in line for his first victory in eight career starts at Jacobs Field, where he is 0-6 with a 7.40 ERA.
Indians starter Danys Baez allowed four runs on six hits over six innings. He walked five batters, and that proved costly as two of them scored.
After losing two of three at Tampa Bay this past weekend, the Orioles looked like a changed team.
Jay Gibbons led off the second inning with a walk, battling back after Baez started ahead in the count 0-2. Batista followed with a double off the left-field wall that came less than a foot from being a home run.
Marty Cordova, who hit .301 for Cleveland a year ago, put the Orioles on the board with a sacrifice fly. Two batters later, Ge ronimo Gil brought home the second run with a grounder to second base.
Then Jerry Hairston had what might be his best at-bat of the season. Hairston fouled off six pitches before hitting the 10th pitch of the at-bat to left field for a run-scoring single, giving the Orioles a 3-0 lead.
Batista, who has a five-game hitting streak, only had to wait one at-bat to hit one over the wall, pulling the first pitch he faced in the third inning 380 feet over the left-field wall for his team-leading 10th home run. A year ago, the Orioles didn't have a player with 10 home runs until Gibbons hit his 10th on July 4.
The 4-0 lead was by no means insurmountable. The Orioles blew a 4-0 lead in Saturday's loss at Tampa Bay, the one that broke the Devil Rays" 15-game losing streak, and they also blew a 3-0 lead in Sunday's loss.
The Indians began their climb back in the third, as Omar Vizquel led off the inning with his fifth home run. Erickson threw an 84-mph pitch, and Vizquel blistered it over the right-field wall.
But the Orioles made a pair of defensive gems to prevent fur ther damage in the inning. First Hairston ranged into the out field grass, toward second base, to field a chopper from Ricky Gutierrez, then made a strong off-balance throw to get him at first.
Lawton followed with a double, but when he tried scoring on Jim Thome's single, left fielder Melvin Mora threw a bullet to home plate, and catcher Geronimo Gil went a few strides up the third base line to make the tag.
For Mora, it was his fourth outfield assist, the second high est total in the American League behind Tampa Bay's Randy Winn, who entered last night with six outfield assists.
The Orioles went 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position after the second inning, but Gibbons provided an insurance run that wouldn't be enough with a ninth-inning sacrifice fly.