It didn't matter how effective Steve Trachsel was for six innings, or how far Aubrey Huff's latest home run against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays traveled. Everything last night was channeled into the late innings when the Orioles again asked their battered bullpen to preserve a seemingly comfortable three-run lead.
The result shouldn't surprise anybody. Oriole relievers again faltered, as the Devil Rays scored twice in the eighth and once in the ninth to tie the game after Danys Baez twice had the Devil Rays down to their last strike. Catcher Dioner Navarro then broke a tie with an RBI single off Rob Bell in the 12th inning, sending the Orioles to a 5-4 defeat before an announced 16,944 at Camden Yards.
In the bottom of the 12th, Devil Rays closer Al Reyes retired Corey Patterson and Nick Markakis with two men on to end it. The game lasted 4 hours, 9 minutes, and again tested the psyche of a team that suddenly cannot win, no matter how many times it puts itself in a position to do so.
The Orioles' losing streak stretched to eight games as a result of the latest bullpen meltdown and some ill-timed base-running and defensive miscues. The Orioles (58-73) will need to beat the last-place Devil Rays tonight to avoid another embarrassing sweep and preserve a 2-8 homestand.
"We played our hearts out and the guys earned a lot of respect tonight," said a terse Orioles manager Dave Trembley, whose club still has not won since his contract was extended through next season. "Mistakes are part of the game."
Trembley's post-game meeting with the media lasted just three questions and less than a minute, and the manager's frustration was shared throughout the home clubhouse, where players ate in near silence, as if pondering how another game had slipped away.
It was the fifth time in the past seven games that the Orioles lost a game that they were leading after seven innings. During this losing streak, the Orioles have been outscored 69-10 from the sixth inning on.
"If we had the answers, we'd be doing something different. All we can do is go out there and battle," said Chad Bradford, who gave up two unearned runs in the eighth inning. "It's just not working out right now."
While the bullpen will undoubtedly shoulder more of the blame after a three-run eighth inning lead disappeared for the second straight night, the Orioles made plenty of other mistakes that influenced their fate.
Huff ran himself into an out in the fourth inning, essentially nullifying a scoring opportunity. Miguel Tejada was thrown out in the sixth, trying to go from first to third on Kevin Millar's single. The mistake loomed larger when Huff followed with a two-run home run off Tampa Bay starter James Shields.
In the 11th inning, pinch runner Freddie Bynum was inexcusably picked off first base by Grant Balfour.
Defensively, Tejada's fielding error led to two earned runs against Bradford in the eighth inning, where the Devil Rays cut the Orioles' deficit to 4-3. Then in the 12th, third baseman Melvin Mora's throwing error led to the eventual winning run.
Bell, who pitched scoreless 10th and 11th innings, was on the mound when Joel Guzman led off the 12th with a high chopper to Mora. The third baseman fielded it cleanly, but then fired a low throw that first baseman Millar couldn't handle. It bounced into the seats next to the dugout, giving Guzman second base. Navarro then scored him with the hit off the scoreboard in right.
"Frustration level is high because we want to get a W," Millar said. "Everybody is trying so hard and everybody is trying to do the job. It's just one of those things where we're going through a big rut right now. But it can turn around as quick as it got here. If we play a great game [tonight] and have a great series against the Red Sox, no one is going to remember these eight games."
Trying to secure a 4-3 lead in the ninth, Baez, the team's de facto closer with Chris Ray out for the season, retired the first two Devil Rays and on two occasions was just one pitch away from ending the game and the losing streak.
However, B.J. Upton singled with two strikes and Delmon Young drew a walk after falling behind 0-2. Brendan Harris then roped a single to left to tie the game.? Baez had done well to get the Orioles, who have been outscored 112-61 in the eighth inning this year, out of the frame with a one-run lead intact. A night earlier, the Devil Rays had scored 11 runs in the eighth against the Orioles' bullpen to turn the game into a rout.
Bradford, who gave up three earned runs and four hits while getting just one out on Tuesday, should have had a quick first out, but shortstop Tejada booted Upton's ground ball. Young then blooped a single into right field, followed by Harris' RBI double.
Bradford got an out and then walked pinch hitter Greg Norton to load the bases. Trembley brought in Baez, who allowed a sacrifice fly to Navarro on his first pitch but got a groundout to Millar to get out of the inning.