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Dodgers cap sweep of O's; skid hits five

LOS ANGELES — LOS ANGELES - Two hours before last night's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Orioles called a rare players-only meeting. Everyone else, including manager Lee Mazzilli, was politely asked to leave.

Their horrible stretch had lasted too long. Something had to change. And that was going to have to come from within.

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One player later said a reference was made to last year's Florida Marlins, who were six games under .500 after 60 games and won the World Series.

Hoping to begin their own revival, the Orioles stumbled again, as they lost leading hitter Melvin Mora to a foot injury and watched reliever Rodrigo Lopez serve up two home runs in a 4-3 loss before 30,465 at Dodger Stadium.

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Summoned for relief duty in a game he was originally scheduled to start before being pulled from the starting rotation, Lopez blew a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning when he gave up a two-run, two-out, pinch-hit homer to Jason Grabowski.

"At that time, I wasn't thinking about anything else," Lopez said. "I'm better than that."

In the eighth, Lopez engaged Adrian Beltre in a classic nine-pitch battle before Beltre lined his 16th homer into the Dodgers' bullpen beyond the left-field wall.

After falling behind in the count 1-2, Beltre fouled off three pitches and took two more balls, before Lopez threw a changeup down the middle.

"It was a great at-bat for [Beltre]," Lopez said. "I have to give him credit. I think I threw all my pitches pretty good except for that last one."

Beltre's home run landed just to the left of Dodgers closer Eric Gagne, who entered in the ninth and promptly recorded the final three outs.

Gagne converted his 79th consecutive save opportunity, extending his major league record. He saved all three games against the Orioles, as the Dodgers completed a three-game sweep.

The Orioles have lost five straight and 12 of 15 games, and it took a loss yesterday by the Toronto Blue Jays to prevent them from falling into last place in the American League East.

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"Just because you have a meeting doesn't mean you're going to turn around and win," said Orioles right fielder B.J. Surhoff, whose two-run single gave the team a 3-1 lead in the sixth. "That's not the reason why we won or lost today. As much as anything, you've got to remind guys to keep their heads up.

"You're never as bad as you think you are, and you're never as good as you think you are."

The Orioles will be better if Mora's injury isn't serious.

He left the game in the first inning after straining a ligament in his left foot. He reached on a bunt single off Dodgers starter Kazuhisa Ishii, raising his batting average to .354, but was injured while retreating to first base on a pickoff throw.

After limping to second base on a single by Miguel Tejada, Mora went to the dugout. X-rays showed no broken bones in Mora's foot. He'll undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam today.

"We'll see how he is [today]," Mazzilli said. "Hopefully it's a day-to-day thing."

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With his players taking it upon themselves to find a solution, Mazzilli tried his own remedy, tweaking the lineup against the left-handed Ishii.

Mazzilli moved center fielder Luis Matos into the No. 2 spot, and dropped everyone else down in the order. He also sat second baseman Brian Roberts and right fielder Jay Gibbons, inserting Jerry Hairston and Surhoff in their places.

"Just want to jump-start something, that's all," Mazzilli said. "You lose four games in a row - and we haven't been scoring runs, which is surprising with this club - sometimes that will make it click."

After Mora limped off in the first inning, the Orioles still grabbed a first-inning lead on Rafael Palmeiro's run-scoring single. It was their first lead in 34 innings, dating to the second inning of Sunday's loss to the San Francisco Giants.

But it didn't last long. The Dodgers tied the score in the first, when Milton Bradley hit a run-scoring double off Orioles starter Erik Bedard. After a tough start, Bedard kept the game tied 1-1 into the sixth, as he gave up five hits and three walks in his five innings.

With Surhoff's two-run single, the Orioles were 12 outs from victory when Mazzilli turned to Lopez for the first time since he pulled him from the starting rotation on Tuesday.

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In 12 relief appearances to start the season, Lopez had posted a microscopic 0.33 ERA, but this time he gave three runs in three innings.

"We talked about why he's there [in the bullpen]," Mazzilli said. "That's the situation you want him in. You feel good when you put him in the game."

Closing time

The past three nights against the Orioles, the Dodgers' Eric Gagne extended his record of consecutive save opportunities. Here's the top five since 1988, when blown saves were recorded on a major league-wide basis:

79: Eric Gagne, Los Angeles, 2002-04 (Aug. 28, 2002-current).

54: Tom Gordon, Boston, 1998-99 (April 19, 1998-June 5, 1999).

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41: Rod Beck, San Francisco, 1993-95 (Aug. 19, 1993-April 29, 1995).

41: Trevor Hoffman, San Diego, 1997-98 (Aug. 24, 1997-July 26, 1998).

40: Dennis Eckersley, Oakland, 1991-92 (Sept. 15, 1991-Aug. 8, 1992).

Source: Rolaids Relief Man program

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Colorado Rockies

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Site: Coors Field, Denver

Time: 9:05

TV/Radio: Chs. 54, 20/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Sidney Ponson (3-8, 6.60) vs. Rockies' Shawn Estes (6-3, 5.81)


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