WASHINGTON -- The brims on the Orioles' caps stayed down yesterday. So did their mood on Sundays.
One strike away from recording his 27th save, closer George Sherrill didn't locate his slider and served up a two-run homer to Ronnie Belliard in the 12th inning. Belliard stood at home plate and admired his work before taking another look at Sherrill and beginning the jog around the bases that capped the Washington Nationals' 3-2 victory before an announced 39,824, the largest crowd in the short history of Nationals Park.
The Orioles (41-39) were poised to win their fifth interleague series in six tries. All they needed was that last strike after being denied on the previous pitch by plate umpire Ron Kulpa, leaving the count 1-2 and a few Orioles questioning the call.
"I thought he had him," catcher Guillermo Quiroz said. "I asked the umpire. He said it was a little up. I couldn't say anything else."
The emotion drained from his face and voice, Sherrill had little to say after the game. The words left his mouth in short bursts and cut off.
On Belliard's home run, he said, "It was a bad pitch." Asked whether the one before it was a strike, he said, "Yeah."
Unable to decide the outcome in regulation, the Orioles moved ahead in the 12th on a two-out single by Adam Jones that scored Nick Markakis, who dived headfirst across the plate. Markakis and Aubrey Huff led off with singles against reliever Luis Ayala after 14 straight Orioles were retired.
Sherrill, making his first appearance in five days, struck out Pete Orr and retired Paul Lo Duca on a grounder. Dmitri Young walked, but Sherrill got ahead of Belliard, who batted for the first time in the 10th.
One more strike and the Orioles would have won for only the second time in 13 Sunday games. But they never got it.
"I thought Sherrill was going to come in and save the game like he normally does," manager Dave Trembley said.
It was a shared feeling among an entire team that has come to expect Sherrill to wobble without falling down.
"If we thought he was going to go through all these games and not give one up, we're fooling ourselves," pitching coach Rick Kranitz said. "He's done an awesome job for us. What are you going to do?
"Anytime you walk the guy in front of you, you're looking for trouble, but he's done a great job and he'd probably make the same pitch again if he had to. And chances are [Belliard] probably wouldn't hit it out."
Before Jones broke the tie, Luke Scott provided the Orioles' only run with his 14th homer, his second in the past two games. It came in the seventh inning on a 1-2 pitch from Nationals starter Jason Bergmann, who has allowed one earned run in each of his past three starts but remains winless since May 15.
Bergmann and Jeremy Guthrie should attend the same nonsupport group.
Being abandoned by the offense is as familiar to Guthrie as an old blanket -- just not as comfortable. He has surrendered two earned runs or fewer in 10 of his 18 starts this season and three runs or fewer in 14, but he has won twice since May 13. He was lifted for a pinch hitter yesterday in the top of the eighth inning with his pitch count at 99 and the score tied at 1.
"I think that was the right move for sure," Guthrie said. "In the American League, maybe you go out there and keep pitching and see what happens, but the way the game is played in this league, it dictates a few things such as that."
The Nationals put the winning run on first base with two outs in the 10th, but Quiroz threw out Roger Bernadina attempting to steal on a pitchout. By the 12th, their bench was empty and their chances almost gone. And then came the call, and one more swing.
"It's tough when that happens," Quiroz said. "You know the old saying that one pitch can cost you the whole game. That was it."