Another unhappy ending for O's

The Baltimore Sun

It had become a film on a continuous loop, with the same predictable outcome and the same bad reviews. The Orioles squander an early lead, their offense disappears and a pitcher with modest credentials befuddles them.

They tried to write an alternate ending last night, but the only difference turned out to be the manner in which they lost.

Working his second inning in relief, Orioles closer Chris Ray loaded the bases after getting the first two outs in the 11th, and Felipe Lopez cleared them with a triple that gave the Washington Nationals a 9-6 victory before an announced 21,782 at Camden Yards.

The Orioles (29-36) lost for the ninth time in 11 games and dropped a season-worst seven below .500.

"This is getting hard to believe," Melvin Mora said. "It's tough times right now."

It might have been easier for the Orioles if left fielder Jay Payton or shortstop Miguel Tejada had run down Robert Fick's shallow fly ball with two outs and nobody on base in the 11th, but neither player took charge.

"That's just one of the things that didn't go right," Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo said.

Ray (3-5) walked the next two batters, including Ryan Langerhans after getting ahead 0-2, and Lopez lined a shot past diving first baseman Kevin Millar along the line.

"It's the name of the game," Perlozzo said. "Walks always kill you."

Ray threw six pitches in the 10th, so bringing him back out for the 11th was an easy call. The rest got hard.

"Toward the end, obviously I was getting a little winded," he said. "But I was out there, so I had to keep pitching."

Said Mora: "We should have won the game before that."

Payton collected his fourth hit, and the 1,000th of his career, with two outs in the ninth to score pinch runner Freddie Bynum and tie the game, after Aubrey Huff kept the rally alive by reaching on an infield single. Payton checked his swing on a pitch from closer Chad Cordero, and the ball eluded second baseman Lopez, who retreated into shallow center field.

Neither bullpen could hold a lead - only the drama.

Austin Kearns and Ryan Church delivered two-out singles off reliever Chad Bradford in the eighth inning, enabling the Nationals move in front again, 6-5. Todd Williams had replaced Steve Trachsel to begin the inning and walked two of the three batters he faced. Jamie Walker got the second out, but Bradford faltered.

Also critical was the Orioles' failure to turn a double play after a leadoff walk. They got the force at second, but Tejada lost control of the ball and couldn't make the throw.

Asked about using Williams in the eighth, Perlozzo said: "Todd has been throwing very well. He's a ground-ball guy, a sinkerball guy. And he was going to face two switch-hitters. We had the inning set up the way we wanted."

The Orioles dug into Washington's bullpen in the seventh, with Payton's two-out bloop double off Jon Rauch scoring two runs to complete a comeback from a 4-2 deficit and leave starter Matt Chico without a decision. Huff had singled off left-hander Ray King to get the Orioles within a run before Payton's at-bat.

"There are some positives to be taken out of the game," Perlozzo said. "But the fact of the matter is, we just didn't come out on the winning end of it."

Trachsel had allowed three earned runs or fewer in 11 of his 13 starts. He surrendered four last night over seven innings, including a two-out, bases-empty homer to Langerhans in the fifth that increased Washington's lead to 3-1. Langerhans entered the game batting .155 with one homer.

Mora homered for the second straight night, reaching the seats in left field to open the fifth inning. He's tied with Nick Markakis for the team lead with nine.

The Orioles have taken a lead in 20 consecutive games, but it's often brief. The jumped ahead 1-0 in the first inning last night, but Washington scored twice in the second.

Just like that, the Orioles were playing from behind again.

Once they crept within a run on Mora's homer, they instantly were down by two again. Ryan Zimmerman tripled to begin the sixth, with Patterson attempting a diving catch and having to chase the ball to the fence in left-center field. Kearns singled with one out, hanging a fourth run on Trachsel for only the third time this season.

"It's a team effort. You've got to swing the bats, play defense and pitch," Perlozzo said. "We're just not putting them all together or enough of them together right now."

The Orioles were taking their hacks against Chico, a pitcher with one victory since April 27. A pitcher who was 0-4 with a 5.46 ERA on the road.

They hadn't faced Chico before last night, but they knew his type. They've been shut down by a litany of relative unknowns this season, guys fresh up from the minors or forced into a rotation by circumstances.

Chico was charged with three runs over 6 2/3 innings. He was lined up for the win until the bullpen failed him.

It wouldn't be the last time a bullpen couldn't hold a lead.

"I always believe in the organization, that we're moving in the right direction," Perlozzo said. "We're running into some tough times. We've had a few. I would certainly hope that the second half of the season, and the rest of the season, that we've used up those things, and things start going our way a little bit better. I'm still confident in the club, but you know, right now you're in a tough stretch and it's not easy."

Breakdown(Through last night's game)

Orioles record: 29-36 Extra innings: 3-4

At home: 16-15 Series wins: 8

On road: 13-21 Series losses: 13

On grass: 27-29 Series splits: 1

On turf: 2-7 Vs. AL East: 12-11

Day games: 7-11 Vs. AL Central: 10-12

Night games: 22-25 Vs. AL West: 4-8

One-run games: 6-15 Vs. NL: 3-5

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