Closer's collapse costs O's victory

The Baltimore Sun

Boarding the team charter last night seemed more like a strategy than a trip for the Orioles, who were reminded again that the only way to avoid losing to the Boston Red Sox is to stop playing them.

Taking a one-run lead into the eighth inning, the Orioles trusted closer Chris Ray to get the last five outs on extended rest. It might have seemed like a desperate measure, but it also presented their best chance of winning - at least on paper.

The plan went into the shredder. Wily Mo Pena hit a grand slam after Ray issued a double and an intentional walk to load the bases, and Boston completed a two-game sweep with a 5-2 victory before 33,522 at Camden Yards.

The ball landed in the visiting bullpen as Pena admired its flight, a shot estimated at 430 feet.

"I tried to go inside," said Ray, who served up a walk-off grand slam to Alex Rodriguez at Yankee Stadium on April 7. "I didn't go inside far enough and he was probably sitting on a fastball."

Ray hadn't pitched in four days. Manager Sam Perlozzo tries to avoid bringing in his closer before the ninth, but he was running out of bullpen options.

"Whenever that phone rings and my name is called, I'm ready to go in the ballgame," Ray said. "I want the ball every day."

He'd like to have back the one he threw to Pena - a 2-1 fastball that resulted in the center fielder's second homer of the season and extended the Orioles' losing streak to four games after they had won four in a row.

"I was just waiting for something to hit," said Pena, who was 1-for-20 against right-handers before the game. "It was right there and I hit it."

With the Orioles clinging to a 2-1 lead, left-hander John Parrish walked Manny Ramirez to begin the eighth and retired J.D. Drew on a long fly ball. Perlozzo stepped out of the dugout and summoned Ray, who hadn't entered a game before the ninth this season.

"He had four days off. He was going to need to get in that game at some point in time," Perlozzo said. "We actually talked about it before the game and felt that if we needed to win the game, if it was a one-plus-inning save, we were going to go for it."

Ray made more than one bad pitch. He hung a slider that Mike Lowell drove into left field for a ground-rule double, forcing Ramirez to stop at third. Ray walked Jason Varitek to set up the double play, but Pena took a big cut and struck a pose.

"I missed a few spots," Ray said. "You keep [Lowell] off base and it's a totally different inning."

The Red Sox have won 22 of their past 25 games against the Orioles (11-11), who fell into third place in the American League East. Perlozzo's strategy of using left-hander Jamie Walker against David Ortiz backfired Wednesday, as did his follow-up move of bringing in right-hander Chad Bradford to face Ramirez. And last night's decision involving Ray brought another wicked result.

"We pulled everything out that we could. It didn't work," Perlozzo said. "We just keep plugging away. Our guys are better than this and they'll get better as they go along."

Said Ray: "The bullpen's fine. Everybody out there believes in their stuff. We're going to get the job done."

Adam Loewen finally got through the sixth inning for the first time in five starts, though the 105 pitches he threw prevented him from going any longer.

Though he has allowed two runs or fewer in four of those appearances, he leads the American League with 24 walks - including five last night - and has permitted 47 base runners in 25 1/3 innings.

Loewen walked the bases loaded with two outs in the third inning before retiring Ortiz on a tapper to the mound. The only run against him came in the sixth when Lowell shattered his bat on a grounder to short that scored Kevin Youkilis.

"If I could throw strikes all the time, I would," said Loewen, who allowed only two hits and lowered his ERA to 3.20. "It's not like I'm trying to throw it out of the zone."

By surrendering only the one run in the sixth after loading the bases with no outs, Loewen passed along a 2-1 lead to the bullpen. It reached Ray. And then it was gone.

"We were trying to win that ballgame at all costs and he was fresh," Perlozzo said. "He goes in there and gets two outs for us and I feel very good that he can handle that easily."

The Orioles scored once against Boston starter Josh Beckett in the first on Brian Roberts' double and stolen base, and Nick Markakis' grounder. And they took a 2-0 lead in the third on doubles by Ramon Hernandez and Melvin Mora.

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