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Angels deal O's 9th loss in row


ANAHEIM, Calif. - The demise of a losing streak can begin with something as simple as a ground ball that finds a hole in the infield, or one big swing that lifts a pitch into the seats. It can be subtle or dramatic, calculated or unexpected.

The Orioles would settle for lighted candles and a prayer.

They're pretty much open to suggestions.

Able to take an early lead against the Anaheim Angels last night, the Orioles trailed again by the second inning and dropped their ninth consecutive game, 9-3, before 24,592 at Edison International Field.

Even their ace, Rodrigo Lopez, can't redirect them. Scott Spiezio hit a three-run homer in the second to put Anaheim in front 3-1, and the Angels handed Lopez (14-7) his third loss in four decisions. Spiezio and Brad Fullmer added run-scoring singles off Willis Roberts in the eighth, and Adam Kennedy hit a three-run homer off Buddy Groom to further dictate the outcome.

When will it end?

The Orioles (63-72) have been outscored 64-24 during the streak and surrendered leads in seven of the nine games. Jerry Hairston hit a home run in the first inning last night - the one big swing that might have made a difference - but Spiezio crushed a 1-2 pitch from Lopez with none out in the second.

Still stuck on last year's win total, the Orioles begin a six-game homestand tomorrow against the Texas Rangers. It will be their first appearance at Camden Yards since the strike talk subsided.

They could use a fresh start, if not some divine intervention.

"We'll get through this and be OK," said manager Mike Hargrove, "but right now it's ugly."

A bloop single by Jay Gibbons with two outs in the eighth scored Jeff Conine to bring the Orioles to within a run, but Marty Cordova flied to the warning track in center against closer Troy Percival. A few more feet, and maybe they write a different ending.

"The more it went, I thought maybe it was out of the ballpark," Hargrove said. "We gave ourselves a chance to win tonight, which we haven't done the last four or five days. We didn't do a good job with runners on third base and less than two outs, but we gave ourselves a chance with our pitching and our offense, and that's a plus. When you're going through things like this, you look for good signs."

Lopez allowed four runs and six hits, his removal coming after a two-out single by David Eckstein in the seventh. The Orioles had given up 10 or more hits in seven consecutive games, but the Angels finished with nine. At least one streak ended.

Two nights after losing to Mickey Callaway, the Orioles scuffled against another rookie pitcher who's done the bulk of his work this year at Triple-A Salt Lake.

Facing the Orioles for the first time, John Lackey (7-3) retired nine in a row after Gibbons singled in the second inning. Gibbons was erased when Cordova, in a 2-for-24 slump, grounded into a double play. Cordova ended Lackey's run by lining a single into left field with two outs in the fifth, but Brook Fordyce flied to right.

Lackey was removed in the sixth after the Orioles loaded the bases with one out on a hit batter, a double by Hairston and a walk. Brendan Donnelly forced in a run by walking Tony Batista, but Conine flied to shallow right and Gibbons chased a two-strike pitch in the dirt.

Cordova and Fordyce opened the seventh with singles off reliever Ben Weber, and Mike Bordick's bunt moved the tying runs into scoring position. But Melvin Mora struck out, and Hairston bounced to short after getting ahead 3-0.

Needing to release some of the frustration building within an entire team, Hairston removed his helmet with both hands after crossing the bag and slammed it to the ground, sending a piece of it flying in another direction.

"They gave us a shot at it tonight and we just couldn't come through in the clutch," Gibbons said.

The game began with such promise for the Orioles. Mora bounced a single into left field, but was thrown out trying to steal. Hairston followed with his fifth homer on a full count, and the sigh of relief coming from the visitors' dugout could have moved the flags.

The last two Angels starters had taken no-hit bids into the sixth inning before Geronimo Gil hit opposite-field singles. Gil wasn't in the lineup last night. Somebody else had to step up.

The Angels remain 2 1/2 games ahead of the Seattle Mariners for the American League wild card and moved 28 above .500 for the first time in franchise history. They swept the Orioles here for the first time since 1993. They're not even the hottest team in their division - the Oakland Athletics have won 18 straight - but the Orioles couldn't touch them.

"We ran into a buzz saw," Hargrove said.

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