OAKLAND, CALIF. — OAKLAND, Calif. - Reliever Buddy Groom was so good last year, he simplified the entire decision-making process for Orioles manager Mike Hargrove.
In the late innings of a close game, if a left-handed hitter so much as thought about taking an at-bat, Hargrove had Groom ready. The results were more predictable than your grandmother's meatloaf.
This year, that's not the case. Every number in the book suggested Hargrove should turn to Groom in the eighth inning yesterday, and every number was wrong.
Groom came in, and Scott Hatteberg drilled his first pitch for a two-run homer, lifting the Oakland Athletics over the Orioles, 5-3, at Network Associates Coliseum.
After getting seven strong innings from Pat Hentgen and erasing an early 3-0 deficit that came on Terrence Long's three-run homer in the second, the Orioles dropped their second straight to Oakland. They also fell to 2-3 on their final road trip before the All-Star break.
"I know in the course of 162 games, if you play the numbers the majority of the time you're going to be right," Hargrove said. "But there are times it's not going to work. We've got to find a way to get Buddy back on track. That's just the bottom line."
Groom is one of the most respected players in the Orioles' clubhouse, and his teammates can feel his pain. A year ago, his ERA was a microscopic 1.60.
Yesterday's outing lifted this year's ERA to 6.41.
Hargrove said he may have to have Groom swap roles with fellow left-handed reliever B.J. Ryan, meaning the close and late situations could go to Ryan, who has held left-handed hitters to a .170 average, compared to .286 for Groom.
"I don't know if we'll do that," Hargrove said, "but it's certainly something I'm going to talk about with [pitching coach Mark Wiley]."
Another option is letting right-handers Hector Carrasco and Kerry Ligtenberg handle the seventh and eighth innings, no matter who is batting.
"Matchups are all well and good," Hargrove said. "But you have to give them a chance to work, and with Buddy struggling the way he has been, I'm not sure the matchups are good matchups right now."
With a 3-3 tie, Hargrove used Carrasco to start the eighth inning with two right-handed hitters coming to the plate. Mark Ellis flared a single to center, and Eric Byrnes flied out to right field.
With Hatteberg and Erubiel Durazo, two left-handed hitters, coming next, Groom knew it was his turn. He had allowed a run in just two of his previous 11 appearances, teasing Hargrove into thinking he was returning to his 2002 form.
"I don't ever lose confidence," Groom said. "It's just a matter of execution; that's what it comes down to. The focus is there. The good thought process when I'm out there is always there."
Groom looked in for the sign, and Orioles catcher Brook Fordyce called for a fastball, low and away. A year ago, Groom could make that pitch in his sleep, and even if he missed, Hatteberg was an unlikely candidate to hit it anyway.
But Hatteberg has become a symbol for the A's patient approach to hitting.
In the book Moneyball, which analyzes Oakland's formula for winning, author Michael Lewis had readers dreaming of a lineup filled with nine Hattebergs wearing down pitchers and getting on base.
Hatteberg entered this game ranked 19th in the American League, seeing 3.92 pitches per plate appearance.
"I don't like swinging at the first pitch," Hatteberg said. "That's my own philosophy. I know I don't swing at them very often. I was hoping he would try to get ahead of me with a fastball, and he gave me a pitch to hit."
Groom aimed low and away, but the pitch went to the opposite side of the plate, middle-in. "He missed," Fordyce said, "by an awful lot."
Hatteberg uncoiled and sent the ball into the right-field seats for his seventh home run of the season.
"When I'm missing right now, it's really being magnified," Groom said. "I've been getting hit and getting hit hard. It's not a case of not having the stuff or anything like that, it's just when I miss, it's being hit."
Groom stayed in and retired Durazo and Miguel Tejada.
"After that pitch [to Hatteberg], he was money," Fordyce said. "I feel for him."
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site: Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.
Time: 4:05 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Jason Johnson (7-4, 4.13) vs. Athletics' Barry Zito (8-6, 3.49)