O's fall one strike short


BOSTON - About five hours after Orioles manager Lee Mazzilli said goodbye to his starting second baseman, Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz hit a towering, walk-off home run yesterday. Ortiz jumped on home plate, the impact severe enough to make an old ballpark shake, as a scrum of players waited for him. Sitting in the visiting dugout, Mazzilli now had to count the day's losses.

Unsure how long they'll be without Brian Roberts, who returned to Baltimore yesterday to have his sore right shoulder examined, and how they'd survive a lengthy absence, the Orioles came within a strike of adding to their legacy of being resilient. But closer B.J. Ryan served up Ortiz's three-run shot with two outs in the ninth inning, giving the Red Sox a 6-4 victory that struck another blow to a team that's absorbing them in waves.

Infield hits by Mark Bellhorn and Edgar Renteria, the latter a bunt single with two outs, proceeded Ortiz's blast on a full-count fastball that stayed up. Ryan suffered only his second blown save in 16 chances, and this one stung for many reasons, especially given Roberts' earlier departure and how the Orioles (32-21) nearly overcame it. "He's still the best at what he does," Mazzilli said. "When you get beat with your best ... "

A crowd of 35,138 at Fenway Park celebrated along with the Red Sox, showing no pity for the Orioles.

They don't expect any, of course. Not from rival fans or the teams that want to knock them out of first place in the American League East.

"No one's going to feel sorry for you," Mazzilli said.

Making his second major league start, former Double-A pitcher Hayden Penn left after 5 1/3 innings with the score tied at 3. Jay Gibbons homered in the second off Matt Clement, and two more runs scored in the sixth on a B.J. Surhoff double and Gibbons' grounder.

The Orioles went ahead against Keith Foulke in the ninth on an infield hit and steal by David Newhan, a sacrifice bunt, two walks and a bases-loaded grounder by Rafael Palmeiro, who beat the relay throw to first. But Ortiz reversed the emotions with one swing.

"When you play against those guys, it's tough," he said. "They are a good team. One way or another, they'll find a way to beat us. When you've got a chance, you've got to go forward. Otherwise, they'll get you later."

Roberts will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test on his shoulder today in Baltimore. Mazzilli should have his blood pressure checked.

He no longer has four starters from his Opening Day lineup, with left fielder Larry Bigbie, center fielder Luis Matos and catcher Javy Lopez on the disabled list. His best starter, Erik Bedard, also remains on the DL.

"It seems like it's happening at one time," Mazzilli said.

The manager approached Roberts in the clubhouse and shook his hand before heading to the field. The exchange was brief but heartfelt, and it came as Roberts slipped into a light blue dress shirt rather than his orange batting practice jersey.

Roberts was going to the airport. The Orioles were taking another step into the unknown.

He woke up Wednesday with discomfort in the shoulder similar to the ailment in March that kept him out of two weeks of spring training games.

"I don't think it's any better," Mazzilli said. "I would say in all probability that he won't play this weekend [in Detroit], but we'll see what the doctor says. It'll be at least a couple days."

Clearly dejected by having his season interrupted, Roberts declined to comment. "There's really nothing else to say," he said.

The Orioles must get used to playing short-handed again, a difficult arrangement for any club. They gave Chris Gomez another start at second base and recalled Ramon Nivar, obtained in the Matt Riley trade, from Triple-A Ottawa while optioning outfielder Jeff Fiorentino to Single-A Frederick.

Nivar, who was hitting .216 in 37 at-bats, can play the outfield and second base. Mazzilli indicated that Newhan will stay in center. The club hasn't discussed shifting Melvin Mora to second.

"If it's just a couple days, we're fine, we'll get through it," Mazzilli said. "If it's an extended period, we'll have to look elsewhere to see what we can do."

Executive vice president Jim Beattie seems comfortable with Gomez as the starter, and looking internally if Roberts is lost for the minimum 15 days. "Short-term, I think we just need to be able to keep doing the things we're doing," he said.

"You say go outside the organization, but if Brian is on the DL, he should be fine in a week or two. Do you make a trade to fill something like that?"

Asked about being short-handed this weekend, Mazzilli said, "I'm very concerned about it. ... If something happens to him, I've lost four starters. That's a pretty big blow.

"You've got to be resilient, you've got to fight through it."

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