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Weary Orioles come up empty


Cleveland -- The Orioles were already having a bad week when they arrived at Jacobs Field yesterday for their last series of the first half of the season. They had been outscored 28-10 in three straight losses to the Chicago White Sox. And a rotation that had thrived for a time looked lost again.

Kris Benson seemed as good a bet as anyone to ease his team's pain. He had been the Orioles' most consistent starter for most of the season.

But Friday night, all Benson (9-7) could do consistently was allow hard-hit balls. Ten of the 19 Indians he faced had hits. Cleveland's fearsome designated hitter, Travis Hafner, led the way with a grand slam. Benson trailed 7-0 when he left after three innings. The Orioles, meanwhile, could barely touch Indians starter C.C. Sabathia, who pinned them with an ugly 9-0 loss before 27,110.

The defeat was the Orioles' seventh in nine games and dropped them to a season-worst 10 games below .500. They are a half game out of last place in the American League East. The team's clubhouse was silent after the loss, with veteran third baseman Melvin Mora acknowledging that he was frustrated and ready for the All-Star break.

"I just wait for those three days because it's been frustrating," he said. "We need to get everything straight here."

Manager Sam Perlozzo said the recent problems have started with pitching.

"We just happen to be in a situation where four of our starters had bad outings right in a row," he said. "Sometimes that happens."

Of Benson, he said, "I didn't think he was real crisp with any of his pitches. I didn't think he had real good bite on his breaking ball and he obviously didn't locate real well."

Orioles hitters said Sabathia was as good as they've ever seen him.

"Throwing hard, throwing hard tonight," first baseman Kevin Millar said. "He used all of his breaking balls, changed speeds, didn't give a whole lot over the middle. ... I think he would've beaten us in a 1-0 game."

The Orioles (39-49) were attempting to end their losing streak against an Indians team that has ranked among baseball's biggest disappointments. Many pundits picked the Indians (40-45) to make the playoffs in the preseason, but they entered Friday night six games below .500 and way behind the White Sox and Detroit Tigers in the American League Central.

Could the Orioles get well against them?

"We're going to need to pitch a little better," manager Sam Perlozzo said before the game. "Our starting pitching lately has not been as good as we'd like to see it, and we all know pitching wins ballgames."

Despite their losing record, the Indians entered the game as baseball's second-highest scoring team. So they proved a poor target for pitchers trying to mend themselves.

Benson was coming off two subpar outings in which he allowed a combined eight runs in 10 innings. He got into trouble quickly Friday night.

The Indians scored first when Grady Sizemore and Jason Michaels opened the game with singles and Ronnie Belliard hit a sacrifice fly to center. They loaded the bases on a walk and infield hit, but catcher Ramon Hernandez stifled the threat when he saw Ben Broussard leaning too far off first base and fired a pickoff throw for the third out.

Benson's fortunes worsened in the second inning. He allowed singles to the bottom three hitters in the lineup, and Franklin Gutierrez made it 2-0 on a RBI single to left center. Cleveland loaded the bases again. This time, Benson didn't escape.

He threw a first-pitch fastball to the Indians' most dangerous hitter, Hafner, who hit it into the right-field bleachers for a grand slam. Hafner became the first player in baseball history to hit five grand slams before the All-Star break. Don Mattingly holds the single-season record with six.

The Orioles have hit one grand slam all season and have allowed seven, two shy of the club record set in 2000.

"The tone was set early, and I unfortunately didn't make that pitch to Hafner," Benson said. "I need to make a better pitch in that situation. The tone of the game wasn't very good at all."

The Indians had little trouble handling reliever Bruce Chen's pitches as well, padding their lead with runs in the fourth and fifth innings.

Sabathia (7-4) worked away from trouble as easily as Benson and Chen found it, allowing three hits and no walks in his complete-game effort.

When asked what the left-hander did well, Mora said, "Everything."

"He's a good pitcher. He pitched a good game," Perlozzo said. "I think one of things he does well is when he needs a little more juice, he rears back and gets a little more on his pitches."

The Orioles have struggled against left-handers all season (batting .233 against left-handers and .288 against right-handers), and the towering Sabathia gave them fits from the beginning. He got ahead of most hitters, and outfielders Sizemore and Michaels backed him with fine running catches early in the game.

The Orioles reached base only on singles and a hit by pitch and never advanced a runner to second base against Sabathia. childs.walker@baltsun.com

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