O's left stranded again


The lesson should have been ingrained in the Orioles' minds from a night earlier. No matter how injury-depleted the New York Yankees are, no matter who is their closer or their cleanup hitter, they will find a way to win if you keep giving them opportunities.

The Orioles tied the game yesterday with two runs in the eighth inning, but failed in successive opportunities to score the go-ahead run. Then they watched closer Chris Ray give up the winning run for the second night in a row as Johnny Damon led off the 10th with a bases-empty home run that beat the Orioles, 6-5, before a sellout crowd of 48,195 at Camden Yards.

"I think that might be the best swing of my 12-year career," said the Yankees' Damon, who sent Ray's 1-1 pitch, a low fastball, over the center-field wall a day after Derek Jeter beat the Orioles with an RBI single off Ray in the ninth. "It wasn't a bad pitch. He kept it down. But just the way the ball took off the bat - a low liner, against the wind, too."

Damon's homer took away much of the good sentiment for the Orioles surrounding the first major league start of their prized prospect, Adam Loewen. The 22-year-old left-hander, who was the Orioles' first-round pick in 2002, battled through five innings against a Yankees lineup that was missing Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield.

Loewen, who went five innings, allowing six hits and three earned runs, walking four and striking out four, wasn't overpowering. But it was certainly a solid effort, and Loewen impressed Sam Perlozzo with his grit, persuading the Orioles' manager to keep him in so he could get the last two outs of the fifth inning.

"I liked him," said Perlozzo, who was noncommittal on whether Loewen will remain in the rotation. "He was a competitor out there. [In the fifth], I had it half of my mind to bring a right-hander in and he says, 'I'm fine, I just need to make a couple of pitches.' It was interesting to see the reaction.

"He is one of our kids. Sooner or later, you have to find out what somebody is made out of, and I thought he passed the test."

Damon said that Loewen is "a little wild at times, but I think he's going to be outstanding."

The Orioles (25-31), who lost their third straight and are a season-low-tying six games under .500, spared their rookie pitcher a loss with their tying rally in the eighth. The Orioles had scored three runs in the first inning off Yankees starter Randy Johnson, two coming on Ramon Hernandez's ninth home run that gave the home team a 3-1 lead.

But Johnson retired 21 of the next 23 batters he faced, giving up only one hit during that span. In two starts against the Orioles this season spanning 15 1/3 innings, the Yankees' much-scrutinized starter has allowed only six hits (four by Miguel Tejada) and five runs.

"He's Randy Johnson," said Hernandez, who was 3-for-4 with three RBIs. "This is a guy that knows how to pitch. He's been in this league for 20 years, or something like that. He knows how to handle it when he's struggling for one inning."

Yankees manager Joe Torre removed Johnson, whose pitch count was at 114, after he walked Brian Roberts with one out in the eighth and the Yankees gripping a 5-3 lead. Roberts stole second and scored when Tejada ripped a two-out double down the left-field line off reliever Scott Proctor.

Hernandez followed with another double, tying the game at 5, where it would stay after designated hitter Javy Lopez struck out, unable to bring in Hernandez for the go-ahead run. The Orioles blew another opportunity in the ninth after Corey Patterson's leadoff single.

Jeff Conine couldn't get him over, popping up a bunt. Patterson stole second, his seventh straight game with a steal, but Luis Matos and pinch hitter Nick Markakis struck out.

The Orioles' bottom three hitters were 0-for-12 with six strikeouts, and Matos (0-for-4 with four strikeouts) followed Melvin Mora (0-for-15 slump) to the batting cage after the game.

Ray, meanwhile, iced down his arm and was met by reporters at his locker the second night in a row.

"I've been happy with my pitch location and with the selection," Ray said. "They've just been hitting good pitches. Not much else I can do - especially with those guys."

The Orioles attempted to rally again in the 10th with consecutive two-out singles by Tejada and Hernandez off Chien-Ming Wang, who was the acting closer with Mariano Rivera ailing. But Lopez flied out to right to end the game, giving Wang his first major league save.

"Sooner or later, someone is going to get a big base hit to get us over the hump," Perlozzo said.

Perlozzo was clearly agitated after Friday night's 6-5 loss, but he managed to break out a smile a couple of times after yesterday's game. Perhaps it was because of Loewen's performance. Hernandez said the rookie, with a total of two major league appearances in relief, pitched like "he has been pitching a lot of times in the big leagues."

Said Loewen: "Most of their hits weren't hit that hard but they made me work for every pitch I made. Hopefully, I'd like to stay in the rotation. I don't know, that's up to Sam Perlozzo and the coaching staff. ... [But] now I can say that I can get the job done up here and get some hitters out for the Orioles."


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