PITTSBURGH - Orioles reliever Jorge Julio stared at catcher Sal Fasano last night, his left arm extended, his glove open, waiting for a new baseball. Fasano hesitated to make the short throw, probably fearful of what Julio would do with it next.
Julio allowed two home runs in the eighth inning, including a bases-empty shot from Jack Wilson with two outs that gave the Pirates a stunning 6-5 victory over the Orioles at PNC Park.
Daryle Ward hit a three-run homer with none out to erase the Orioles' 5-2 lead and deny rookie Hayden Penn his first major league win. Julio retired the next two batters before Wilson reached the seats in left field and ended the Orioles' winning streak at three games.
He also prevented the Orioles from moving 14 games above .500 for the second time this season and from increasing their lead to a season-high five games in the American League East.
"I don't know what happened," Julio said. "But tomorrow's another day."
The Orioles hope it ends better than this one.
The Orioles (35-23) were six outs away from giving Penn his first decision. He left in the sixth with a 5-0 lead and the bases loaded, and two runs scored while he sat on the bench.
"You want to get that win under your belt," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "We just let it slip away."
Fasano homered twice for the third time in his career, most recently on July 30, 2000, and Sammy Sosa and Melvin Mora added bases-empty shots.
Fasano's third home run since joining the Orioles landed above their bullpen in left-center field, and he crushed another one into the second level of seats in left for a 4-0 lead. But his unusual power display meant little within a silent clubhouse.
"It doesn't mean too much at all," said Fasano, who struck out with the bases loaded to end the eighth. "I feel like I'm getting a little more comfortable, except that big one with the bases loaded kind of stunk."
Pirates starter Dave Williams was a life raft for Sosa last night. Or a tall glass of water to a thirsty man. Imagine an all-you-can-hit buffet for a hungry slugger.
Sosa has been famished of late, from all the times he has come up empty at the plate since leaving the disabled list. But the Orioles' right fielder found his power stroke against Williams.
Sosa had been 8-for-49 with a homer since returning to the active roster two weeks ago. But in his career, he's 8-for-13 with six homers and nine walks against Williams.
"I don't want to talk about that," Sosa said. "We lost a tough game. This is no time to talk about hitting somebody else."
One night earlier, Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon twice ordered intentional walks to Miguel Tejada with first base open and Sosa on deck. The strategy worked both times.
After Sosa crushed a 3-1 pitch in the second inning last night, Williams walked him intentionally in the fourth with Tejada on second base and none out.
Unfortunately for Sosa, Williams left the game in the fifth. Sosa grounded out in the sixth and singled off reliever Brian Meadows in the eighth.
"I've been hitting the ball well, seeing the ball good," Sosa said. "A lot of people don't recognize that."
Brian Roberts didn't start for the seventh straight game, but he pinch hit in the ninth inning after Rafael Palmeiro reached on an error. Roberts flied out against Pirates closer Jose Mesa, ending his hitting streak at 20 games.
"We're just trying to go at a pace that feels right," said Roberts, who expects to start Friday in Cincinnati.
Making his third start since arriving from Double-A Bowie, Penn carried a two-hit shutout bid into the sixth inning. He allowed three hits, but only 37 of his 73 pitches were strikes.
"I guess my final line wasn't that bad, but I didn't feel like I was in control of the game," he said. "I'm still trying to learn here."
He still could have gotten the win, but Julio threw a sinker to Ward that didn't sink, and Wilson produced only his third homer this season.
"His fastball was up," Mazzilli said. "You can't throw fastballs by fastball hitters in fastball counts. This game is going on 100 years and you can't do it that way."
Julio said he felt "jumpy" in his delivery. He couldn't get comfortable on the mound, or deliver a lead to closer B.J. Ryan.
"We have a lot of games coming," Julio said.
This one will stay with the Orioles for a while.
NOTES: Larry Bigbie will leave the team today to begin an injury rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Ottawa, which is playing in Columbus, Ohio. Bigbie, on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring, expects to rejoin the Orioles on Monday at Camden Yards. ... Luis Matos took batting practice and will continue working with hitting coach Terry Crowley through the weekend before going on a rehab assignment.
Opponent: Pittsburgh Pirates
Site, time: PNC Park, Pittsburgh, 7:05
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Bruce Chen (5-3, 3.53) vs. Pirates' Kip Wells (4-4, 3.58)