Tie in grasp, Driskill lets it slip away, 6-4

THE BALTIMORE SUN

BOSTON - Travis Driskill was the feel-good story of the summer for the Orioles last year, when he arrived in the big leagues after nine seasons in the minors and didn't lose the first 11 times he touched the mound.

Somehow, that seemed like a distant memory last night, when the Orioles turned to Driskill as a last resort and watched a tight ballgame against the Boston Red Sox unravel in a span of three batters.

With a tie score in the eighth inning, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove knew it wasn't the ideal situation for Driskill, who hadn't pitched in six days. But after sweeping the Red Sox in a doubleheader on Friday, the Orioles' top relievers were pretty much spent.

So Driskill got his chance, and his favorite pitch failed him twice, as the Red Sox pounced for a 6-4 victory before another sellout crowd of 34,883 at Fenway Park.

Driskill allowed the go-ahead run to score with a wild pitch, then Kevin Millar followed with a two-run homer into the Green Monster seats above left field.

"I was given an opportunity to pitch in a crucial situation," Driskill said.

"I haven't had a chance to do that in a while, and I dropped the ball."

The Orioles tried taking Driskill off the hook. With two out in the ninth, Brook Fordyce homered off Red Sox closer Byung-Hyun Kim. Two more batters reached base, but Brian Roberts grounded out to second, ending the game.

Boston broke the Orioles' three-game winning streak and maintained its one-game lead over Oakland in the American League wild-card race.

Driskill (3-5) saw his ERA mushroom to 6.00, and his performance spoiled another strong outing by newcomer Damian Moss, who held the Red Sox to three runs on six hits in seven innings.

In two starts since coming to the Orioles in the trade that sent Sidney Ponson to the San Francisco Giants, Moss has posted a 2.63 ERA.

"If we score him some runs," Hargrove said, "he's 2-0."

The Orioles scored three against Red Sox starter Tim Wakefield in the fourth inning, as Tony Batista connected for his 20th home run.

But Boston came back and tied it in the sixth, when Manny Ramirez lined his 26th homer of the season over the Monster Seats.

Moss threw 113 pitches and struggled all night with his command, walking four batters after walking five in his first start with the Orioles. With Ramirez coming to the plate to start the eighth, Hargrove knew he needed a reliever, but his choices were limited.

Right-handers Hector Carrasco and Kerry Ligtenberg each pitched in both ends of Friday's doubleheader. Left-handers Buddy Groom and B.J. Ryan had pitched in a game or at least warmed up four days in a row, as had closer Jorge Julio.

"We might have gotten a couple of outs out of Ligtenberg and maybe an out or two out of Ryan, but that doesn't get you very far," Hargrove said. "Nobody was toasted tonight, don't get me wrong, but if we had them, we had them for limited exposure.

"If you've got the lead, you can make a case for going ahead and trying to get to Julio. With a tie ballgame, you mix and match trying to get through an inning, and then you're in the same boat for the next inning, anyway.

"Travis is a good pitcher. Travis is not chopped liver. It just didn't work for him tonight."

With the score tied 3-3, Ramirez started the eighth with an opposite-field single to right, going with a 2-2 pitch with what Hargrove called "as good a piece of hitting as you'll ever see."

The speedy Damian Jackson went in to run for Ramirez and reached third base when David Ortiz flared an opposite-field single to left.

Driskill's bread-and-butter is his split-fingered fastball, but it betrayed him again last night. With Millar at the plate, he bounced the off-speed pitch past Fordyce, and it went to the backstop, allowing Jackson to score.

Then, with a 1-2 count, Driskill left another splitter up in the strike zone, and Millar jumped on it for his 19th home run. It was the 10,000th home run hit at Fenway Park.

"[The split-finger] has been pretty inconsistent for me since spring training," Driskill said. "It's pretty much my best pitch, and when I don't have it, it kind of handcuffs me."

After going 8-8 with a 4.95 ERA last year, Driskill started the year at Triple-A Ottawa before settling into the long-relief role with the Orioles for the past three months. Now his days in the big leagues could be numbered.

Driskill sounded demoralized, but a few lockers down, Moss was taking the no-decision pretty well.

"These guys are battling for me, and I'm battling for them," Moss said.

"There's no frustration at all."

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