O's can't close deal

The Baltimore Sun

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- When third baseman Melvin Mora finally stepped off the playing field yesterday, he booted the Gatorade cooler, sending it tumbling off the top step and crashing to the dugout floor.

Several of his teammates were far more subdued, staying seated in the dugout long after Vladimir Guerrero had pounded Chris Ray's final, ill-fated pitch over the left-center-field wall, giving the Los Angeles Angels a dramatic, 4-3 victory over the Orioles. They stared listlessly into the outfield as replays of Guerrero's blast were played over and over again on the Angel Stadium scoreboard.

Perhaps it would have been easier to accept had the Orioles not seen this act before.

It was exactly three weeks earlier in Boston when Jeremy Guthrie was pulled in the ninth inning of a dominating start and the Orioles' bullpen, notably Ray, melted down and wasted a five-run lead.

Ray's margin of error was far less when he took the mound yesterday afternoon with a one-run lead after another superb outing from Guthrie, but his failure was far more sudden.

It took just seven pitches, with Ray allowing a leadoff single to Chone Figgins and then hanging a 1-1 slider to Guerrero, who deposited it into the rock pile beyond the wall in left-center for his 12th home run.

"When you make a mistake," Ray said about Guerrero, "he's not going to miss it."

Asked whether he watched a replay to see if Guerrero had hit a good pitch, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said: "I didn't see it. Once is enough.

"We just needed three outs," said Perlozzo, who looked as deflated as he has been all season. "We played our hearts out until that point. Our closer is supposed to come in and get you three outs. And it didn't happen."

It was Ray's fourth blown save in 16 save opportunities, and three of them have come on home runs. It was also the 13th one-run loss this season for the Orioles (27-30), who had reached .500 Thursday after a six-game winning streak.

Ray (3-4), who had pitched six straight scoreless outings, but only two of those in save situations, said his confidence remains intact. Pitching coach Leo Mazzone also stood by his embattled closer.

"We're not losing any confidence in him at all," he said. "If you throw a slider to Guerrero, it has to be off the plate. It caught too much of it. That's what happens. Chris Ray is our closer. He's done a great job for us. That's it."

But Perlozzo said he is concerned about Ray's propensity to give up home runs. It was the third homer Ray has given up in 26 2/3 innings this season after giving up 10 in 66 innings last year in his first season as closer.

Asked whether he may have to re-evaluate the way he uses the 25-year-old pitcher, Perlozzo took a deep breath.

"I don't know how you go about that," said the manager, whose top setup man, Danys Baez, has also struggled mightily and been demoted to an earlier-inning role as a result. "We got to get a little more consistent about that. We're taxing our other guys as it is. If your closer and your eighth-inning guy can't get anybody out, where do you go?"

Perlozzo also faced several questions after the game about his decision to remove Guthrie, the same theme that called attention to his job security last month. The rookie right-hander, who continued his emergence by holding the Angels (36-22) to one earned run and three hits, had thrown 88 pitches in eight innings. He got out of a jam in the eighth by allowing just one run, on a groundout by Howie Kendrick, cutting the Orioles' lead to 3-2.

Perlozzo said he asked Guthrie how he felt when he returned to the dugout and the pitcher said, "'Who's coming up?' That's not an answer I wanted to hear," Perlozzo said.

"You don't want that kid to lose the game," he said. "Somebody gets on, you got to let him go out and lose the ballgame. You can't go to your closer then. You're trying to stay out of trouble. You leave him, he's got to go in and pitch the whole way through that thing. That's the job of the closer. We got ourselves right where we wanted to be."

Guthrie, who is 2-1 with a 1.68 ERA in seven starts this season, said he and Perlozzo made a mutual decision.

"We were playing baseball the way it's supposed to be played," Guthrie said. "We got out there [and] sneaked out of the eighth with some minimal damage. [Perlozzo] asked me and I [said], 'Let's go with Chris.' He agreed. That's the way you play. Play to get it there, and everyone does their job. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."


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