Bobbling O's hit bottom

The Baltimore Sun

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The second the ball left Mark Ellis' bat, Orioles reliever Lance Cormier knew it was landing somewhere in the left-field seats at McAfee Coliseum. His only hope was that it would hook to the left of the foul pole and go for a long strike, rather than a devastating walk-off home run.

With the way this road trip has gone for the Orioles, there shouldn't have been any doubt. Ellis' 10th-inning drive clanked off the foul pole, and the Oakland Athletics poured out of the dugout to celebrate a 6-5 victory and a three-game sweep over the Orioles, who are finding more excruciating ways to lose games.

"I didn't even think it was close," Cormier said. "It's a game of inches; that's what everybody says. And that's what happened."

What also happened was the Orioles (16-18) lost for the fifth straight time, all the defeats by two runs or fewer. They were outscored in the Oakland series just by four runs and now go to Kansas City for a four-game series, hoping to salvage a road trip that has started with 1-5.

The loss, coupled with Toronto's victory last night, dropped the Orioles to last in the American League East. They were atop the division after beating Tampa Bay on April 29.

"I give Oakland all the credit in the world," said Orioles manager Dave Trembley, whose team is two games under .500 for the first time this season. "They played better than us. They deserved to win all three games. They took advantage of every opportunity that they had, they pitched us real tough. They got key hits when they needed to do it and the opposite took effect for us. That's it in a nutshell. I guess today was the epitome of that."

After an uneven start by Jeremy Guthrie, the Orioles, who hadn't led in the first 26 innings of the series, rallied from two runs down to take the lead with a three-run eighth inning, highlighted by four straight two-out hits. Brian Roberts, who started the game on the bench, tied it with a two-run, bases-loaded single off Andrew Brown. Melvin Mora then gave the Orioles a 5-4 lead with an RBI double down the right-field line.

But shaky defense in the bottom of the eighth inning cost the visitors the lead that they had battled so hard to get. Emil Brown hit a one-hopper to Mora, who jumped up and corralled the ball. However, he lost control of it when attempting the throw and Brown reached to lead off the inning.

"I feel like it's my fault," Mora said. "It was an easy routine play, and I just dropped the ball."

Chad Bradford gave up a single to Bobby Crosby, and after Ellis' sacrifice bunt, Oakland had runners on second and third with one out. Trembley called for an intentional walk of Jack Hannahan to load the bases and set up the double play, then brought in closer George Sherrill to face left-handed hitter Ryan Sweeney.

A's manager Bob Geren countered by sending up Frank Thomas to pinch hit. Sherrill got the lumbering Thomas to do exactly what he wanted, hit a ground ball to the left side. However, instead of charging the ball, shortstop Luis Hernandez stayed back to play it. By the time he threw to second base, Hannahan upended Roberts and prevented a throw to first. That tied the score at 5.

"He didn't hit it too hard," said Hernandez, who has been playing deeper than usual because he has been struggling with in-between hops. "He hit it right in the hole. I was playing a little bit deep. I think if I was playing normal, I can make a better play."

Hernandez compounded his problems by getting picked off first base for the final out in the 10th. It was part of another mistake-filled afternoon for the Orioles, who struck out nine times, hit into two double plays and left 10 runners on base.

It all could have been excused had Cormier's ill-fated 1-0 fastball just hooked a couple of more inches to the left.

"We're right there every game," outfielder Jay Payton said. "It's like I kept saying last year: More than anything, we have to stop making stupid mistakes, and we have to do a better job of taking advantage of the opportunities that we have."

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