It was set up for the perfect ending to a thrilling weekend. With the Orioles down to their last out, leadoff hitter Brian Roberts drove Matt Capps' pitch into the left-field seats for a two-run home run to tie the score.
A third straight Orioles comeback victory was one swing away, but it never came. Instead, the Pittsburgh Pirates got to closer George Sherrill for a second straight day and avoided a series sweep with a 5-4 win over the Orioles in 10 innings before an announced 31,107 yesterday at sun-splashed Camden Yards.
It was an anticlimactic ending for the Orioles, who came back from five runs down to win the first game in the series and erased four deficits in the second game.
"We felt all along that we were going to come back and win," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "There's no doubt about the approach here or our thought process. We're thinking we're going to win, even when we're down 4-1."
A day after blowing a save for the third time this season by allowing Adam LaRoche's two-run homer in the ninth inning, Sherrill entered in the 10th and issued a leadoff walk to Jason Bay. Ryan Doumit followed with a single, and then LaRoche hit a one-out RBI single. The Orioles (34-34) finally went down quietly in the bottom of the 10th against Capps (1-2), who retired all three hitters he faced in the inning, striking out Adam Jones to end it.
"My arm was dead," said Sherrill, who has pitched in eight of the Orioles' 14 games this month and called the fatigue natural. "I didn't feel like I had anything, and it showed. I didn't feel like I could get anybody out."
Sherrill's struggles ensured that three trends continued yesterday. The Orioles, who are off today before beginning a series tomorrow against Miguel Tejada and the Houston Astros, lost their 10th straight Sunday game after beating the Seattle Mariners on the first Sunday of the season. They've also suffered six straight defeats when having a chance to complete a series sweep of three or more games.
And Daniel Cabrera registered another uneven outing, allowing four runs in six innings while remaining winless since May 20. During one six-batter span in the Pirates' three-run third inning, Cabrera allowed a home run to Nate McLouth, walked a batter, hit two Pirates, threw a wild pitch and allowed a two-run single to Jason Michaels.
Cabrera walked five batters and has issued nine walks in his past two outings. He also has given up 16 earned runs in his past 16 innings.
"[My fastball is] still a little flat," Cabrera said. "I don't got the same movement that I had early, but I'm working on it."
With the Orioles trailing 4-1 in the sixth inning, Aubrey Huff cut the deficit to two with a solo homer off Pirates starter Paul Maholm. With the way the previous two games had played out, it seemed inevitable there would be another Orioles comeback.
Jay Payton looked as if he had tied the game in the seventh inning, hitting a bloop to right-center field with runners on second and third and two outs. However, McLouth sprinted forward and made a diving catch. It appeared that would be the Orioles' last chance until Oscar Salazar reached on an error to start the ninth.
Capps got the next two outs, leaving Roberts as the last hope. He took a first-pitch ball and then drove the closer's next pitch one row up into the left-field seats, his fifth homer tying the game at 4.
"I'm just trying to hit a ball hard somewhere and get on base," Roberts said. "A home run really wasn't what I was thinking, but you certainly want to get a pitch you can drive and hopefully end up with maybe second or third or something like that."
The Orioles got more than that. Sherrill, who was warming up in the bullpen, had just one thought.
"Orioles Magic is what went through my head," he said. "I didn't think I had anything, but I figured adrenaline would kick in. It did, but not enough."