Saturday, May 24, 2008

O's Blanked in Duel with Rays

ST. PETERSBURG -- Perhaps Orioles manager Dave Trembley knew what was coming Friday night.

Just hours after Trembley affirmed his belief to enact instant replay in home run situations and the ability to, as in the National Football League, challenge a questionable call made on the field, the Orioles found themselves in dire need of a red challenge flag.

Down one run with a runner on first, Aubrey Huff hit a frozen rope down the right-field line that was ruled to be foul despite a replay that showed otherwise. Had Huff's eighth-inning stroke been ruled a hit, Nick Markakis would have easily reached third, and possibly even attempted to score and tie the game.

Instead, Huff grounded into an inning-ending double play, and the Orioles dropped their third straight game, losing the series opener against the Rays, 2-0.

"You guys want to talk about replay, there's a classic case right there," said a visibly frustrated Huff. "It wasn't even close."

The Orioles' designated hitter wasn't the only one to voice his immediate disagreement with first-base umpire Ed Hickox's call. Trembley ran out in support of Huff immediately following the play, and the O's manager came out again to yell at home-plate umpire Ed Rapuano, who ejected Trembley during a pitching change in the bottom of the eighth.

"Obviously, I thought it was a fair ball, and you know that's baseball, there's a difference in opinion," Trembley said.

When asked if he had seen a replay that prompted his second argument, the skipper remained mum.

"I'm not going to say that. I thought it was a fair ball right from the get-go and that's all," Trembley said.

Huff also tried multiple times to sway the decision, even asking Rapuano if he could overrule the call made by Hickox.

"Honestly, you shouldn't even need to overturn that. It was clearly fair from where I was; it wasn't even close," Huff said. "It's just a ball I've hit 1,000 times down that line -- you think it's an automatic double, game-changer right there."

It certainly was a game-changer for Tampa Bay, which took the momentum and the game, blanking Baltimore for its sixth home shutout.

"That was a close call, but I think he got it right," Rays first baseman Carlos Pena said. "It's hard for me to tell, but I was glad it was foul."

Of course the home crowd was, as well. Had Huff's hit been fair, the Orioles would have at least had runners on second and third with one out and Kevin Millar at the plate. The O's first baseman had doubled in his previous at-bat off Rays starter Matt Garza, who had just came out of the game before Huff's at-bat.

"We had Garza right there, and we had the right guys up and it just didn't happen for us," Trembley said. "So that's the tough part of the game."

What is even tougher for the club is negating another dazzling performance on the mound.

After Thursday night's starter, Brian Burres, held the Yankees to one run through 7 2/3 innings, the Orioles' offense couldn't string together enough hits for the win. Jeremy Guthrie's superb effort on Friday was also spoiled by the stagnant bats, as the right-hander tossed 114 pitches, and for his second straight start, allowed only one run to cross the plate.

Still, Guthrie's quality start -- 6 2/3 innings with five strikeouts -- ended with his fifth loss of the year.

"Guthrie pitched a tremendous ballgame," Trembley said after acknowledging that the Orioles had fallen victim to the same formula that had resulted in Thursday's 2-1 loss in New York.

"The good news is the pitching's been phenomenal all year long," Huff explained. "If we had been swinging the bats at all within the last couple weeks, we'd probably have about five more wins. We just can't get anything going, and I think everybody's just trying way too hard."

Although the effort may be there, the results clearly have not.

Friday's shutout marked the second time the Orioles were blanked in the past three games, and the third time all season. All three shutouts have come within Baltimore's past eight games; conversely, the O's weren't shut out last season until Sept. 1.

The Birds got a small taste of payback as Luke Scott made a phenomenal diving catch, running back on Pena's deep fly ball to rob the slugger of an extra-base hit.

"I couldn't tell what was going on," said an awed Pena. "He went backwards, and up without seeing it, it was like Willie Mays -- it was crazy."

The O's left fielder was more modest, saying he was simply trying to play the game hard, and catch it by all means necessary. Scott's defensive gem in the eighth inning was the lone bright spot for a team full of slumped shoulders and deep sighs following the events of the eighth inning.

"People make mistakes, and it's tough ... it's done and over with," Scott said of Huff's ball. "Especially it would have helped us out a lot, you are looking at the very least second and third and it changes the game around. But sometimes that happens, you know ... you got to overcome obstacles in this game."


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