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CLEVELAND - -Give Jim Johnson a little credit. During the most difficult period of his brief career, the Orioles' closer of two months hasn't lost his sense of humor or his self-deprecating way.

"If there's a way to give up a run, I'll find a way," Johnson said after he served up the game-winning hit in the ninth inning of the Orioles' 9-8 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Saturday night in front of an announced 31,749 at rainy Progressive Field.

What is also now painfully true for the Orioles is if there is a way to lose, they will find it. They dropped their ninth straight game in particularly gut-wrenching fashion, erasing a four-run deficit in the fifth inning, blowing a two-run lead in the seventh, and then scoring two in the top of the ninth to tie the game before the Indians answered with one in the bottom half to win it.

After the Orioles staged their second rally and scored two in the ninth off Indians closer Kerry Wood, Luis Valbuena hit a leadoff single off Johnson, moved to second on Shin-Soo Choo's groundout and then scored the game-winning run on Jhonny Peralta's broken-bat, one-out single into center field.

The result for the reeling Orioles was another avoidable defeat, another step closer to the 100-loss plateau, and another frustrating evening for embattled manager Dave Trembley, who has to wonder whether his team will win another game.

"The hard ones are the ones that you have the opportunities to win," said Trembley, who had spoken to his players after Friday's loss and urged them to avoid feeling sorry for themselves. "Things were set up as best as they possibly could be to try to win that game. It was that simple."

The Indians, who had lost 11 straight games and 15 of 16 before the Orioles arrived in town, will go for a three-game sweep this afternoon. The Orioles (60-94) will have to go 3-5 the rest of the way to avoid the third 100-loss season in franchise history. They've already clinched their worst season since they went 67-95 in 2002.

"When you lose nine in a row, it's always hard," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "You figured at some point that the guys that we lost through the injuries were going to catch up to us a little bit. I don't think any of us thought it would catch up to us this much."

Saturday night, the Orioles did show some resolve, battling back from a 4-0 deficit, created when starter Jason Berken imploded in the fourth inning. The rookie right-hander allowed two hits and no runs through the first three innings. He then surrendered six hits, including homers to Choo and Andy Marte, and four runs while managing to get just two outs in the fourth.

"My first three innings were three of the better innings I've thrown all year," Berken said. "I felt really good. The fourth inning, the ball was up a little bit, the off-speed pitches were hanging, and those were the two pitches they hit out, a curveball and a slider."

The Orioles did take Berken off the hook from his 13th loss as they scored five times in the top of the fifth off Indians starter Jeremy Sowers. Robert Andino started the rally with a solo homer (his second of the season), and Luke Scott ended it by slamming a three-run homer into the second deck in right field to give the Orioles a 5-4 lead. Their advantage grew to two runs on Michael Aubrey's solo shot in the sixth.

But the Orioles' beleaguered bullpen still had 12 more outs to get. After Cla Meredith did his job in a scoreless sixth, Sean Henn fell well short of doing his. He walked the leadoff batter in the seventh, and served up back-to-back doubles to Asdrubal Cabrera and Valbuena to tie the game.

Henn exited without getting an out, and Chris Ray entered and allowed three straight Indians to reach base, including Peralta, who hit a go-ahead RBI double. Marte increased Cleveland's lead to two runs with a sacrifice fly in the four-run seventh.

The Orioles again rallied, this time off Wood. Roberts led off with a single, pinch hitter Jeff Fiorentino fought back from an 0-2 count to draw a walk, and Matt Wieters hit a single to load the bases. Nick Markakis and Melvin Mora then tied the game with back-to-back sacrifice flies.

But the excitement was short-lived, with Johnson retiring only one of the three batters that he faced, and the Indians rushing out of the dugout to celebrate the victory. In eight appearances this month, Johnson has a 13.51 ERA, two blown saves and Saturday night's loss.

"You look at what the team has done," Johnson said. "They came back and put up a big number when they were down early and they easily could have folded the tent in the ninth. Kerry Wood is no slouch. That's the deflating part, battling back not once but twice and getting nothing to show for it."

Box score

for Saturday's game PG 4


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