O's loss hurts so bad

The Baltimore Sun

Melvin Mora hopped on one foot to grab a plate of food in the Orioles' clubhouse yesterday, making sure to keep the left one, with an ice pack attached to it, from touching the floor and grimacing from the pain radiating from the right.

Across the hallway, Los Angeles Angels catcher Mike Napoli leaned on a pair of crutches, his left foot encased in a walking boot after X-rays didn't reveal any broken bones.

Napoli had to be carried off the field. Mora limped away - the only victory he could take from his high-impact slide at home plate that produced the game's final out in the Orioles' 4-3 loss to the Angels before an announced 25,058 at Camden Yards.

The play ended the Orioles' first homestand under interim manager Dave Trembley and had Mora unsure whether he would be available for tonight's series opener against the White Sox in Chicago.

"I'm glad I don't have a fracture," he said, pointing to his right foot. "It really hurts."

So did the outcome.

Trailing by a run in the ninth, the Orioles staged a one-out rally when Mora hit a ground-rule double to right-center field. Jay Payton bunted on his own, recognizing that third baseman Chone Figgins was playing back, and beat the throw.

Here's where it got really interesting. And really painful.

Brian Roberts, who doubled and scored on a single by Ramon Hernandez after entering the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth, lifted a shallow fly ball to right fielder Vladimir Guerrero. Known for having one of the strongest throwing arms in the majors, Guerrero made a basket catch and fired the ball to Napoli, who took a few steps up the first base line to receive it.

The throw easily beat Mora, but replays showed that he slid underneath Napoli's high tag. Plate umpire Gerry Davis called Mora out, and Napoli lay on his back between the plate and mound while his teammates celebrated.

"I thought the ball was going to drop in at first," Trembley said. "It was a pretty good read by Melvin that he didn't get caught in no-man's land. A lot of times in that situation, you're too far off the base to get back and tag. I thought Melvin played it perfectly."

The Angels didn't have a beef with Mora's slide. It was clean play. It also determined the outcome.

"It looked like he slid under the tag," said Freddie Bynum, who left the on-deck circle and motioned for Mora to get down, "but when the ball beats you to the bag, the umpire more than likely is going to call you out."

Said Payton: "When the ball beats you like that, unless it's obvious that you don't get the guy, more times than not he's going to be called out."

Mora wasn't dwelling on whether Davis made a mistake. He had other issues, like a bruised right foot and a sore left ankle. Racing to a television to watch the replay wasn't a priority. It also would have been physically impossible.

"I wasn't thinking about that," he said. "I was just thinking about the pain I was having. That guy, I hit him really bad."

On the day he was denied his first selection to the All-Star Game, Jeremy Guthrie allowed a season-high four runs over eight innings. But he retired the Angels in order in six of those innings, didn't walk a batter and struck out seven.

Casey Kotchman hit a two-run homer in the fourth, after Guerrero's RBI double, and Napoli added a bases-empty shot in the eighth.

"I'd just like to take the one back to Napoli. Bad pitch, bad location," Guthrie said. "Kotchman, we were trying to go in and he did a nice job on it."

Payton hit a two-run homer off John Lackey in the second inning, and his bunt in the ninth was a gamble he deemed worth taking.

"I'm not trying to get [Mora] to third, I'm trying to get a hit," Payton said. "And I know with B-Rob, he's our best hitter, coming up next, if I can get [Mora] to third with one out, B-Rob's going to put the ball in play and make something happen. And he did. We just came up a little short."

The most crucial at-bat might have come in the eighth, when Nick Markakis bounced to second baseman Howie Kendrick, part of a drawn-in infield, with one out and runners on second and third. Pinch hitter Ramon Hernandez had singled to score Roberts, and he took second while Bynum, pinch running for Gomez, raced to third on left fielder Nick Gorneault's errant throw. They both held as Markakis made the second out, and Kevin Millar popped up to keep the Orioles trailing 4-3.

The tying run never scored, despite the best efforts of Mora and third base coach Juan Samuel in the ninth.

"If I'm going to win or lose the game in that situation, that's how I'm going to do it," Samuel said. "It took a great throw, even though we know what kind of arm Vladimir Guerrero has. I would do that again. You guys know I'm aggressive and I think that situation called for that. We know who was on the on-deck circle and we weren't going to take a chance on trying to get a two-out hit there.

"You've got a closer out there, and how many two-out hits are you going to get off K-Rod?"

The Orioles never had a chance to find out yesterday.

roch.kubatko@baltsun.com

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