For much of the past week and a half, the Orioles have done nearly everything right. But in a frantic ninth inning last night at Camden Yards, when it again looked like the home team would find a way to win, everything went horribly wrong.
Corey Patterson, the Orioles' fastest runner, couldn't score the tying run from second base on a single. Melvin Mora, one of the team's best bunters, opted to lay one down on his own, but it wasn't good enough to bring Patterson home. And Miguel Tejada, the Orioles' best hitter, made the game's final out after the batter in front of him was walked intentionally.
Oakland Athletics closer Huston Street retired Tejada on a groundout with the potential tying run on third and the winning run on second, as the Orioles fell, 6-5, in front of 13,862 last night, their four-game winning streak ending in painful fashion.
"We are just losing a game," an exasperated Tejada said. "We're not losing a season. That's the same thing that we do in New York. There are going to be many games like this that we're going to lose. ... This game is over. Tomorrow is another game."
The defeat was just the Orioles' second in the past 10 games, and it left the Orioles' clubhouse lamenting several miscues. The Orioles (11-8) rallied after a poor performance by Erik Bedard to cut a five-run deficit to one run in the eighth inning on Aubrey Huff's three-run home run. They were then one swing away from turning a two-run ninth-inning deficit - Nick Swisher hit his second home run in the top of the ninth off Danys Baez to give the A's a 6-4 lead - into another exhilarating victory.
Jay Payton led off the ninth against Street by working a walk, and he moved to third on Patterson's double. Street struck out pinch hitter Chris Gomez for the first out, but then watched Brian Roberts' come-backer head past him and into center field.
Payton scored on the single and Patterson would have, too, but he thought that Street or shortstop Bobby Crosby might field Roberts' ball, so he initially froze and then broke back to second base. When the ball bounced into the grass, he headed to third, but was held up there.
"I already had - I don't want to say it was a bad break - but I already made up my mind what I wanted to do," said Patterson, whose decision was backed by manager Sam Perlozzo. "You want to play it safe there. There's still an opportunity to tie the game and maybe win it."
Mora, who leads the team with 15RBIs, then came up with one out and the tying run on third and the winning one on first. Needing a fly ball, Mora apparently was enticed by A's third baseman Eric Chavez's positioning at third, so he chose to bunt. The ball went right to Street, who looked Patterson back to third and then threw out Mora at first for the second out.
Mora left before speaking to reporters last night, but his manager acknowledged that he was bunting on his own.
"There wasn't any sign on," Perlozzo said. "I'm sure he felt like the third baseman was deep and he could get a ball down there and load the bases up for us and make something happen."
Street fell behind No. 3 hitter Nick Markakis 2-0 and then walked him intentionally, choosing to go after Tejada, who spent his first seven major league seasons with the A's.
"After falling behind him, that was a no-brainer," Street said. "I had already given up two hits to lefties in the inning."
Tejada swung at his first pitch and hit a hard grounder that Mark Ellis easily handled at second base, throwing him out and sending the fans to the exits.
"I can't expect them to walk a guy in front of me," Tejada said. "It's baseball. They do it. They do a great job and they make me out. It's long season and tomorrow, they can do it again. You never know. It happens to everybody in the big leagues."
Coming into the game, the Orioles had won four straight, but that was tempered by the challenges ahead. Over four days, starting last night, the Orioles were to face the A's pair of aces, Dan Haren and Rich Harden, and the Boston Red Sox's twosome of Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett.
They appeared to catch a break when they learned yesterday that they would be spared from Harden, who was put on the disabled list. But they also now have another ace to worry about - their own. Bedard had another confounding performance last night, cruising through three perfect innings before imploding in Oakland's five-run fourth.
"It's always frustrating when you give up five runs in one inning. One or two's not bad, but five's kind of frustrating," said Bedard who was at a loss to explain his inconsistency.
In his matchup with Haren, who turned in seven solid innings, allowing the lone run on Roberts' homer in the sixth, Bedard (3-2) lasted just 4 2/3 innings. He put extra strain on a bullpen that will be needed regardless today with Jeremy Guthrie, making his first start of the season, likely limited to five or six innings.
Reliever Scott Williamson, who exited last night's game with tightness in his right triceps tendon, will also be unavailable. Williamson struck out Crosby to get Bedard out of a bases-loaded jam in the fifth. That left Bedard's ERA at 6.11.
"He's going to be good for us all year long," Perlozzo said. "I think sometimes we get into positions where we expect a guy to be great every time he goes out, and it doesn't happen that way all the time."