Monday, May 26, 2008

Orioles Watch Rays Walk off with Sweep

ST. PETERSBURG -- Even George Sherrill, who has steered the Orioles out of some tight jams this season, couldn't help right the struggling club on Sunday afternoon. The O's dropped their season-high fifth straight game and now sit in the cellar of the American League East for the first time this season.

The O's closer got ahead of both batters he faced, but couldn't put the Rays away, as rookie Evan Longoria lifted Sherrill's fastball into center field for a game-winning RBI double, sealing a 5-4 Rays win and a sweep in front of a home crowd of 17,762 at Tropicana Field.

"It's been a real bad road trip," Sherrill said. "We started pretty good coming off not playing so hot for a while, and now we are right back in a funk. So, we just got to put pitching and hitting together."

The pitching -- which, with the exception of a few scattered starts, has kept Baltimore afloat in recent weeks -- wasn't nearly as sharp on Sunday.

After several crippling walks in the series' first two losses, free passes continued to plague the O's pitchers in Sunday's finale.

Starter Daniel Cabrera issued a one-out walk to B.J. Upton -- his first free pass since May 8 -- and got behind 3-0 to slugger Carlos Pena, who took the right-hander's next pitch over the fence for a two-run blast. All four of the Rays' runs before the ninth came in the fateful third inning, as Tampa Bay jumped on Cabrera's early struggles.

"I stayed a lot of times behind those hitters," Cabrera admitted. "They are aggressive. You go behind, they are going to hit the ball hard."

The O's hurler issued six walks and was charged with nine hits in 5 2/3 innings, Cabrera's shortest start since his first outing this season on April 2. Although the right-hander was clearly not at his best, Cabrera managed to battle through and keep the Birds within striking distance.

"Cabrera was real key," manager Dave Trembley said of the right-hander's ability to make adjustments throughout the game. "He's not a thrower anymore, he's a pitcher. He's learned how to be."

Unfortunately, the Rays made some equally impressive moves, drawing nine walks and compiling two stolen bases. Conversely, the O's drew one walk and had no steals.

"They are playing the game -- they capitalize on mistakes," reliever Jamie Walker said.

Walker got a critical strikeout from Pena to strand a runner in the sixth inning, and it looked for a moment as if the momentum had finally swung Baltimore's way.

After tacking on a second run in the fifth inning, the O's spotty offense ruffled Rays starter James Shields for another pair of runs in the sixth inning. The O's efforts were buoyed by a leadoff triple from Brian Roberts and a solo home run from ex-Ray Aubrey Huff to tie the game at 4.

Walker and Jim Johnson followed with a combined 2 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, and the Birds appeared poised to strike next and avoid a series sweep. But, as has been the recurring theme of the road trip, the chips fell for the home team as the game remained deadlocked until Longoria's walk-off double.

All the components -- the pitching, the defense, even the hitting -- were starting to emerge, but when the dust settled, the O's still found themselves on the wrong side of a one-run game.

"I thought we did a tremendous job today," Trembley said. "We didn't give away at-bats, we found a way to get back in the game, and like I said, Cabrera was real key. [He] maxed himself out, and once we got [Huff's] home run, we thought we were going to win the game."

Getting a win has remained elusive in the past week, as the O's have dropped six of their last seven games during what could easily be categorized as their toughest stretch this season.

"You got to do the best you can with every opportunity you have," Trembley said of the hard luck that has befallen the club. "Our outlook is, sooner or later this is going to turn in our favor."

It certainly doesn't get any easier, as the Orioles will return home to face perennial powers, the Yankees and the defending World Series champion Red Sox. The recent resurgence of the Rays, who have won 15 of their past 16 home games, only compounds the O's woes in a tough American League East.

"They are playing the game pretty [darn good]," Walker said. "And they got a little confidence now, and they are a pretty good team, so our work's cut out for us [in] the East."


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