For Ray, a perfect 10th helps O's avoid sweep

The Baltimore Sun

DETROIT -- In a span of three wild innings yesterday, Orioles closer Chris Ray blew a save, preserved a tie and protected his own victory.

"I'd say he ran the gamut right there," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said jokingly.

It was that kind of afternoon at Comerica Park, where the Orioles blew an early four-run lead, then erased a one-run deficit, then took a two-run lead, only to squander that and then finally prevail thanks to a four-run 10th inning.

Perlozzo sat slumped in his chair after the Orioles' 12-8 victory over the Detroit Tigers, the 3 1/2 -hour back-and-forth game having clearly worn on the manager.

"We just tried to hang on, and we used everything we could to do it," Perlozzo said. "They know we're a little short, but I'll tell you what - they keep battling away and keep fighting. Things go that way sometimes [when] you're playing really good teams. Usually, you have to play good anyway against them. Then, when you're in our position, you really have to play well and have things go your way."

The craziness started in the bottom of the eighth inning when Ray was called on with one out and a runner on to protect the Orioles' 8-6 lead. However, Ray's second pitch, a split-fingered fastball, caught too much of the plate, and Tigers first baseman Sean Casey yanked it into the right-field seats to tie the game.

"It was down," Ray said of the pitch. "He just extended his hands and dropped the head on it. It was a good pitch. He just hit it."

It was Ray's second consecutive blown save, but he certainly redeemed himself, getting out of a jam in the eighth, and then retiring the Tigers in order in the ninth and 10th innings. The 2 1/3 innings pitched, in which Ray threw 29 pitches, represented his longest outing of the season.

"I don't think I've done that before," Ray said. "But I got myself in that situation, so I figured I might as well finish it. The defense and the offense picked me up there in the top half of the 10th, and I just wanted to go out and finish it off."

Orioles designated hitter Miguel Tejada brought in the winning run, singling in the 10th off Jason Grilli with runners on first and third and one out. Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge dived and fielded Tejada's hard grounder, but his throw hit off Neifi Perez's glove at second base and bounced into the outfield.

Kevin Millar then singled, bringing home two runs after Tigers right fielder Magglio Ordonez mishandled it, and Corey Patterson added a sacrifice fly.

"It was a crazy game, but we did the right thing," Tejada said. "We're playing against a contending team and they tied the game, but we never gave up. We have to be professionals. We know we are out of the race, but we have to represent the team, the uniform and the city of Baltimore. That's why we play hard."

The loss, coupled with the Minnesota Twins' victory over the Cleveland Indians, cut Detroit's lead in the American League Central to one game. It was just the Orioles' fourth victory in 16 games in September and it prevented Detroit from gaining a three-game sweep.

All it took was for the Orioles to get two strong defensive plays from left fielder Jeff Fiorentino, a season-high four hits each from Chris Gomez and Ramon Hernandez and four home runs. Two of the homers, off the bats of Millar and Gomez, came in the Orioles' three-run fourth inning when the visitors knocked out Tigers starter Wilfredo Ledezma and took a 5-1 lead.

Melvin Mora also hit a bases-empty homer in the third inning and rookie Nick Markakis hit a bases-empty shot in the eighth. Markakis' 16th homer had given the Orioles an 8-6 lead, but that wasn't enough, either.

"[You knew] it was going to be tough to come here and get some W's," said Gomez, who broke a 6-6 tie in the seventh inning with an infield single off rookie reliever Joel Zumaya. "You wish it didn't have to be that way, but there is obviously a reason why they are in contention at this point of the year. ... They are a good team, obviously."

The reason the Orioles (64-85) couldn't hold their early four-run fourth-inning lead rested on the shoulders of pitcher Daniel Cabrera, who looked dominant for parts of the first three innings and then, as Perlozzo succinctly put it, "imploded" in the fourth.

Cabrera got two quick outs, both on strikeouts, then walked Ordonez, gave up consecutive singles to Carlos Guillen and Casey and then walked Marcus Thames and Inge to bring in another run.

With the bases loaded and the Orioles' lead down to 5-3, Perez ripped a shot back up the middle that cleared the bases and enabled Perez to reach second when nobody was covering the base. Perlozzo said the problem was that Cabrera threw from the windup instead of the stretch, enabling the base runners to get a huge head start.

Cabrera allowed six earned runs on four hits and four walks, but he was done after the fourth, giving way to Rodrigo Lopez, who pitched two scoreless innings before he couldn't go anymore because of soreness in his right biceps.

"I gave up too many runs in that [fourth] inning, but that's the past," Cabrera said. "Let's talk about the job Ray did, and Rodrigo. That was great. The team needed a win right now, no matter how, and that's what Ray did. He stopped the people and we won."

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