Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo surveyed the scene in the ninth inning last night at Camden Yards - a two-run lead and his closer Chris Ray on the mound to protect what promised to be Erik Bedard's eighth straight win - and felt his team was in great shape.
Even after Ray gave up two straight singles to Chicago White Sox pinch hitters to lead off the inning and Perlozzo ordered a one-out intentional walk to slugger Jim Thome to load the bases, the Orioles' manager was confident.
However, what would have been a feel-good win turned into an excruciating loss when unheralded Ross Gload, in the game only because Chicago slugger Paul Konerko fouled a ball off his shin in the fifth inning, sent Ray's full-count pitch over the left-field wall to hand the White Sox a 6-4 victory before 35,382.
"It's just a sinker that tailed away," said a terse Ray, who blew just his second save in 27 opportunities. "I just got beat. You feel bad, but you come to the park tomorrow the same as you did today."
Gload's first career grand slam, the ninth the Orioles (47-57) have given up this season, tying a franchise season high, also was his first homer since Sept. 29, 2004. The first baseman-outfielder got ahead 3-0 before Ray worked the count full. The homer landed a couple of rows back from the wall.
"I was just sitting there like any other fan in the fifth, sixth inning when Konerko got hurt, hoping to come in there and break one open," said Gload, who has 10 career homers. "I'm sure no one really wanted to see me up there in the ninth in Konerko's spot, but we've had guys come up big all year. When I hit it, I thought it was a sac fly."
Ray's troubles started when he allowed back-to-back singles to Scott Podsednik and Rob Mackowiak. Tadahito Iguchi bunted them up a base, before the Orioles walked Thome. It was the third straight night Ray had been on the mound in a save situation, but Perlozzo said that he saw no evidence that the 24-year-old was tired.
"I would have if his velocity was down, but he was letting it fly pretty good," Perlozzo said. "His location just wasn't as good as it has been. ... He left a pitch out and up. You have to give credit to their guy. He got enough on it.
"[Ray has] been great," Perlozzo added. "You can't expect him to save every one of them."
The win, clinched when White Sox closer Bobby Jenks pitched a scoreless ninth for his 27th save, was just Chicago's third in 13 games after the All-Star break. And it came after Bedard held the White Sox down over seven innings, continuing his streak of impressive performances.
Bedard did not have the dominant stuff that he has had for the better part of a month and a half now, but the other signs that an ace is possibly emerging in front of the Orioles' eyes were on display. Taking on the highest-scoring offense in the American League without his best stuff, Bedard battled through jams repeatedly, allowing just two runs on eight hits and two walks while striking out seven.
"This kid, he gave us a lot of headaches," said Chicago manager Ozzie Guillen about Bedard, who two-hit his team over eight innings in early July. "He's a good pitcher, one of the best in the league. The kid throws real well - breaking ball, fastball - and he's just one of the best in the business right now."
With the tying run up in the form of slugger Jermaine Dye and Bedard's pitch count at 112 in the seventh inning, Perlozzo went to the mound to decide whether the pitcher was going to stay in the game. Bedard's answer was convincing.
"He said, 'I'll get him. He's mine,'" Perlozzo said. "That was good enough for me."
Bedard, who has faced questions about his toughness in the past, then got Dye to foul out to first baseman Kevin Millar on his second pitch. He walked off the mound to loud applause from the fans and his teammates, several of whom greeted the pitcher on the top step of the dugout. His ERA during the past eight starts is now 1.45.
"If I had a say in it, I was staying in," Bedard said. "It can't be easy every game. I just made some pitches when I needed to."
Bedard gave up only a sacrifice fly to Iguchi in the third, which tied the game at 1, and an RBI groundout by Brian Anderson in the sixth, cutting the Orioles' lead to 4-2.
Again the subject of rampant trade rumors that he says he has learned to ignore, Miguel Tejada had an RBI double in the first and another in the third. Brian Roberts added his second homer of the season in the third inning, a bases-empty shot off Freddy Garcia. Millar scored the Orioles' fourth run with an RBI double, scoring Corey Patterson, who had singled and swiped second for his 33rd stolen base this season, a career high.
When Chris Britton retired the White Sox in order in the eighth and when Ray strolled to the mound in the ninth, all signs pointed to Bedard's eighth straight win. Ray, however, couldn't shut the door.
"Who cares about streaks?" Bedard said. "We played hard, but it happens."