The game was effectively lost when the Washington Nationals scored four runs in the sixth inning Saturday, knocking out an ineffective Brad Bergesen, who couldn't hold three different Orioles leads, and then putting up two more runs with Mark Hendrickson on the mound.
But the groundwork for this defeat was laid in the previous two days when Orioles starters couldn't get deep into the game, a pattern that Bergesen fell right into, and the bullpen was taxed to the extreme. With what he described as only a "3 1/2-man" relief corps Saturday, Orioles manager Dave Trembley watched a three-run lead in the sixth inning turn into a grueling 7-6 loss before an announced 30,290 at rainy Nationals Park.
"We just came up short," Trembley said. "There are a couple other things maybe we could have done. We got some runs, we had the lead, we had the bottom of the lineup coming up in the sixth after we had just scored. All the momentum was on our side, and we just didn't get it done."
In building a 6-3 lead, the Orioles got a two-run single, and a two-run homer by Ty Wigginton, and an inside-the-park, two-run homer by Adam Jones after Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan slammed his glove to the ground rather than going after the ball.
But with just 12 outs to get to secure a series victory, Bergesen allowed the first three Nationals he faced to reach in the sixth inning. Roger Bernadina's RBI triple made it a two-run game, and then Alberto Gonzalez pulled the Nationals within one with a pinch-hit RBI single.
Hendrickson entered, and after a sacrifice bunt by Morgan, he hit Cristian Guzman. Hendrickson then allowed an infield single to Ryan Zimmerman and a go-ahead, two-run single by Adam Dunn, who beat the infield shift with a hard grounder to right-center field.
"It's definitely frustrating," said Wigginton, who has 13 homers and 31 RBIs. "But at the same time -- and I think we've been saying this a lot this year -- it's baseball. You have to find a way to finish out that 'W.'"
Bergesen, who gave up six earned runs on 11 hits and a walk as his ERA ballooned to 6.10, had already thrown 99 pitches before the decisive bottom of the sixth began, but the Orioles needed him to get deeper into the game to protect their beat-up bullpen.
"You're in a situation there where you have to go with who you think is your best guy," Trembley said. "The back end of your bullpen is pretty well beat-up. You've got some guys who have been extended. You've got a guy who's not available, so you do what you think is the best thing, and for me Bergesen was my best option."
Had the Orioles been able to make a couple of key defensive plays in the inning, things could have been different. Right fielder Nick Markakis got a bad break on Adam Kennedy's leadoff single and then couldn't come up with a diving catch. Shortstop Cesar Izturis bobbled Zimmerman's generously ruled infield single.
But the Orioles' biggest lament was not having a full bullpen at their disposal, a direct result of Brian Matusz pitching just 2 1/3innings in Thursday's series finale loss to the Texas Rangers and David Hernandez logging just 5 1/3 innings in the series opener here. Bergesen then lasted only five innings Saturday, meaning the bullpen has had to get 40 outs the past three days.
Entering Saturday's game, Trembley knew he wouldn't have Koji Uehara available for a third consecutive game. Uehara is experiencing elbow pain and could go on the disabled list today. Jason Berken also wasn't available after he was needed to pitch 4 1/3 innings and throw 74 pitches Thursday. Cla Meredith had pitched in three straight games, so Trembley wanted to stay off him, and Matt Albers threw 35pitches the previous night.
"I try to chew up as many innings as I can," said Bergesen, who has given up nine earned runs on 21 hits in 11 2/3 innings in his past two starts. "I hate to put the added pressure on the bullpen. Those guys were going out there every single night, so they were tired. So to have them pick up an extra inning on my behalf, I'm not too happy with that part."
Not even Jones was smiling after a game in which he became the first Oriole to hit an inside-the park homer since David Newhan did it on July 21, 2004, against the Boston Red Sox's Pedro Martinez at Fenway Park.
Jones hit a deep drive to center field, and the ball bounced off Morgan's glove. Morgan obviously thought the ball had deflected over the wall, and he angrily slammed his glove to the ground while the ball rolled behind him. Left fielder Josh Willingham picked it up and hit the cutoff man, but Jones beat the throw home.
"Morgan missed the ball, and I saw it get away from him and I saw him mad," Jones said. "He threw his glove down, and I kept running."
Unfortunately, what could have become the highlight play of an uplifting victory became just a footnote in another loss.