Blown chances

The Baltimore Sun

It happened to George Sherrill last year, too. In back-to-back August games against the Chicago White Sox, Sherrill surrendered home runs.

Of course, last year, he was a setup man for the Seattle Mariners. He's been a closer for a total of three months, long enough to realize that allowing game-tying or game-winning home runs as a closer "makes headlines."

Again, Sherrill was one strike away from securing an Orioles victory. And again, it was a strike that he never got, thanks to a slider that caught way too much of the plate.

A day after surrendering a walk-off, two-run homer to the Washington Nationals' Ronnie Belliard, Sherrill allowed a game-tying blast to Kansas City Royals pinch hitter Miguel Olivo in the ninth inning.

Jose Guillen then broke the tie with an RBI single in the 11th inning, sending the Royals to a 6-5 victory before an announced 15,289 last night at Camden Yards. It was just Kansas City's second victory over the Orioles in the past 15 games.

"Same pitch, same spot," said Sherrill, who suffered his fifth blown save. "I was just trying to bounce it and both of them rolled. Neither of them felt good. You hope that maybe it just doesn't get to the plate. It's a thin line. It just got there and hung."

It was a terrible way for the Orioles (41-40) to end a month in which they went 15-12 and reach the midpoint of a season that most baseball prognosticators figured to be a lost cause by now.

The Orioles were denied their 16th win in June, which would have been the most in the month since 1994.

Making matters worse, the Orioles might have lost their starting shortstop, Alex Cintron, for a while after he strained his left hamstring while beating out an infield single in the bottom of the seventh. Cintron will be re-evaluated today, at which point the Orioles will also get a better read on the psyche of their first-year closer.

Asked whether he was worried about Sherrill, Orioles manager Dave Trembley said: "Not at all. I didn't worry yesterday, I don't worry today."

The Orioles' bullpen, which has been their backbone all season, squandered a 5-1 lead that the Orioles built with four runs in the fifth inning against Royals starter Zack Greinke.

The Orioles had a chance to give Sherrill more breathing room, but Ramon Hernandez bounced into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth.

Starting the ninth, Sherrill retired Alex Gordon on a soft liner and then retired Guillen on a pop-up to shallow center. But with the crowd standing and anticipating a third strike to Olivo, he crushed a hanging slider into the left-field seats. It was the third time this season Sherrill has given up a game-tying or game-losing home run with an off-speed pitch.

Olivo's blast, which denied Brian Burres his staff-leading seventh win, was the Royals' first pinch-hit homer since Sept. 24.

"I'm not going to my fastball enough," Sherrill said. "[Olivo] struggles with breaking balls, but not that one."

As he walked off the mound after the ninth inning, Sherrill flung his gum into the grass. Then, he tossed his glove into the seats behind the Orioles' dugout. Finally, he tossed a bucket that was in the Orioles dugout, the gum that was in it scattering all over the grass.

"That's just a frustrating situation, and if you're in the arena, you know that feeling," said Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar said. "Georgie is very competitive and just made one bad pitch. He did a great job, two sliders in the dirt, then put one over the plate and Olivo hit the ball out. But we'll be OK."

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