A's outlast O's in 12 innings for 2-1 victory

THE BALTIMORE SUN

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Already short on sleep, the Orioles played another tense game against the Oakland Athletics last night feeling woefully short on runs.

This has become a recurring theme against Oakland, especially at Network Associates Coliseum, where a sparse crowd of 14,081 turned out to watch these teams battle late into extra innings.

After one of their runners was thrown out at home plate in the top of the 12th inning, the Orioles lost, 2-1, in the bottom half. With the bases loaded and no outs, A's pinch hitter Scott Hatteberg hit a run-scoring single up the middle and through a five-man infield.

The game had taken a strange turn in the top half of the inning.

Orioles center fielder Luis Matos, who lay on the ground for several moments after being hit on the left hand with one out, stayed in the game and made it to third base on an errant pickoff throw by A's reliever Mike Wood.

With runners at the corners, Jeff Conine hit a tapper to the first-base side of the pitcher's mound. With Matos streaking to the plate, Wood grabbed the ball and threw to catcher Ramon Hernandez, who made a three-quarter spin move and tagged Matos on the foot for the out.

Orioles manager Mike Hargrove argued the call with plate umpire Larry Vanover to no avail. Matos left the game, and Tim Raines Jr. took his spot in center field.

Raines factored into the action immediately, as Terrence Long led off the bottom of the inning with a double into the left-center-field gap. Raines retrieved the ball and his throw back toward the infield strayed wide of shortstop Deivi Cruz, rolling into foul territory and allowing Long to reach third base.

Raines was charged with an error, and Orioles reliever John Parrish intentionally walked Mark Ellis and Chris Singleton to load the bases. Hector Carrasco relieved Parrish, and Hargrove brought right fielder Jay Gibbons in to play first base, but Hatteberg, batting for Eric Byrnes, hit the ball up the middle and past a diving Cruz.

With their third straight loss, the Orioles fell to 2-3 at the halfway point of their trying road trip to New York, Oakland and Seattle.

The A's won their fourth straight and remained tied with the Mariners atop the American League West standings, with both teams gaining a game on Boston, their primary challenger in the wild-card race.

The Orioles had three similar experiences the last time they were here, right before the All-Star break, in mid-July. That time, Oakland swept a three-game series, 2-0, 5-3 and 1-0.

All three of those games were decided after the sixth inning. So in four games here this season, the Orioles have scored four runs.

Last night, a string of four A's relievers held the Orioles scoreless after the fifth inning and hitless after the seventh.

When the Orioles arrived at their downtown San Francisco hotel yesterday morning, after playing a night game at Yankee Stadium in New York and flying cross-country, it was after 4 a.m.

Their only solace was knowing the A's were living a similar travel nightmare, having played a night game in Toronto and flown home after passing through customs in Kansas City. The A's landed at the airport about 30 minutes before the Orioles.

Both starting pitchers had the good sense to travel west a day early, giving them a full night's rest.

Orioles starter Jason Johnson was seeking his career-high 11th victory, having settled for no decisions in his previous two starts.

Johnson took a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning, but he made his only big mistake of the game with two outs. Ellis, the No. 8 hitter in Oakland's lineup, engaged Johnson in a nine-pitch at-bat, and the last offering was a 93-mph fastball over the plate.

Ellis lined the ball over the left-field wall, a few feet above the yellow 362-foot sign, for his seventh homer of the season.

Johnson took another no-decision, despite allowing just one run on five hits over seven innings.

A's rookie Rich Harden flashed his electric stuff, but the Orioles drew six walks and chased him from the game after the fifth. Harden threw just 55 of his 102 pitches for strikes.

The Orioles managed one run off Harden, as Brook Fordyce hit a leadoff double in the fifth inning and scored on a bases-loaded grounder to second base by Conine.

Johnson made it through the first three innings unscathed, but he had to labor to do it. The A's stranded two runners in each of the first two innings and another in the third.

The Orioles caught a bad break in the third inning, when they put runners at the corners with one out and Conine lined into a double play. Ellis, the second baseman, made the catch and threw to first base before B.J. Surhoff could get back.

By then, it seemed like it would be a long night for the Orioles, as Harden was looking like the can't-miss prospect who came up to the big leagues in July. After starting the year at Double-A, where he faced 39 batters and retired all 39, Harden breezed through the Triple-A ranks and continued his momentum when he reached Oakland.

In his first four starts, Harden went 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA, but in three starts coming into last night's game, he was 0-3 with a 12.34 ERA.

Oakland's commitment to on-base percentage was well-documented in the book Moneyball, but the A's entered the game ranked 11th in the American League in that statistic and runs scored. Their .255 team batting average ranked 12th out of 14 teams.

Johnson kept them scoreless in the fourth, and the Orioles finally took the lead in the fifth.

Orioles tonight

Opponent:Oakland Athletics

Site:Network Associates Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.

Time:10:05

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Pat Hentgen (5-6, 4.36) vs. A's Barry Zito (10-11, 3.38)

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