ARLINGTON, Texas -- For much of last night's game, the moments the Orioles actually looked like they wanted to be out on the field at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and playing another last-place team were fleeting.
Perhaps they were simply saving their energy for the ninth inning, where they put together a spirited rally for the second straight night. Only this time, they came up one run short. The Orioles loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth against Rangers closer Joaquin Benoit but scored only once and fell, 3-2, in a game that ended with Paul Bako striking out and Melvin Mora being thrown out trying to steal second base.
With men on first and third and one out and the Orioles' deficit down to one run after Scott Moore's sacrifice fly to deep center, Bako, the Orioles' lightly used backup catcher, swung through Benoit's 3-2 changeup. Rangers catcher Gerald Laird threw out Mora trying to steal second, thwarting the Orioles' comeback.
"That's what you live for," Bako said. "Obviously, it just didn't work out. I was trying to hit the ball. [But] he threw a good 3-2 changeup and I missed it."
Orioles manager Dave Trembley's last option on the bench was catcher J.R. House, but he stayed with Bako, who has struck out in five of his eight at-bats in September.
"Bako's got a lot more experience in those kinds of situations in the big leagues than House does," Trembley said. "Bako's been in the big leagues for a long time and he's had those kind of opportunities to be up there."
Trembley chose to send Mora on the 3-2 pitch because he wanted to stay out of the double play. It was a close play at second base, but Laird's throw and Michael Young's tag clearly beat Mora.
"It's run-and-hit," Trembley said. "You've got to make contact at the plate, [and] we didn't make contact at the plate. We're on the road. At home, you probably don't do that. ... Especially with the state of our bullpen being what it is - there was a whole lot of guys down there that I didn't have available tonight - we're trying to win it in the ninth inning on the road. We weren't playing to tie it, and we weren't going to play back on our heels."
For most of the game, the Orioles did just that. Sure, Miguel Tejada looked pretty energetic in the second inning, watching the flight of his 18th home run, his first since Aug. 31, and his first opposite-field home run of the season. Brian Roberts also looked spry, making a diving catch to save two runs in the fourth inning and then throwing to second base to double up a Rangers base runner.
The Orioles also got a highly fortunate five innings from Victor Santos, who allowed only three runs despite permitting 11 base runners in five innings. Santos, who nearly didn't get out of the second inning after getting hit in the left ankle by a come-backer, gave up a two-run single to Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the second inning and then a bases-empty home run to Nelson Cruz in the fourth.
"I was wondering if he was going to make it when he got hit in the ankle," Trembley said. "I went out there after he threw the first pitch after that and said, 'Hey, if you're not all right I'm going to get you out of here right now.' He said, 'No, I'm fine.' He wants one pitch back that he gave up to Cruz, but other than that, he found a way to get some outs."
However, the Orioles collected only five hits in seven innings against Luis Mendoza and Mike Wood. Mendoza, a 23-year-old right-hander making his second major league start, got his first career win, holding the Orioles to four hits, including Tejada's second-inning home run.
Wood pitched a scoreless sixth and seventh inning, and C.J. Wilson did the same in the eighth. However, Benoit, who allowed Tejada to tie the game in the ninth the previous night with a pinch-hit single, got in immediate trouble, walking the Orioles shortstop to lead off the inning.
Kevin Millar followed with a single, bringing Mora to the plate. Trembley approached Mora before his at-bat and told him that he didn't want to bunt, preferring to go for the win. Mora walked against a wild Benoit to load the bases.
Moore cut the Orioles' deficit to 3-2 with a long sacrifice fly right in front of the warning track in center field. It allowed Millar to tag up and go to third base. But Bako, who was ahead in the count 3-1, couldn't get him home.
It was the Orioles' 23rd loss in the past 30 games. The Orioles have to go 5-4 over the final nine games to equal last year's 70-92 mark.
"I was just hoping that Bako makes contact," Mora said. "That was the key. We wanted to stay out of the double play. If he made contact and hit a ground ball, we had a chance. ... It was a good [decision]. That's the way you need to play, aggressive."
NOTES -- Trembley said he still isn't sure when center fielder Corey Patterson (sprained left ankle) will return to the lineup. Patterson has missed the past 15 games. ... Moore made his first start at first base this season. ... Molina made his second start at catcher as Trembley kept Ramon Hernandez out of the lineup for a second straight day. ... As of game time, the Orioles still hadn't been briefed about the plans of reliever Danys Baez, who got a second opinion yesterday on his elbow from Dr. James Andrews.firstname.lastname@example.org