Friday, June 13, 2008

Late runs not enough for Orioles vs. Sox

BOSTON -- For all the late-inning runs the Orioles produced in their past two games, it's rather unfortunate that they spotted the Red Sox a five-run cushion in each outing. In fact, it seemed as though the Baltimore bats didn't come alive until the team had already accumulated what is generally an insurmountable deficit at Fenway Park.

Boston third baseman Mike Lowell took starter Jeremy Guthrie deep for his second grand slam of the season over the Green Monster in the fifth inning, giving the Red Sox four big insurance runs that ultimately led to a 9-2 Orioles defeat on Thursday.

"We've got to stay away from the big inning," manager Dave Trembley said. "Last night, they jump out and score five, [and they did so again on Thursday]. It's hard to come back from those kinds of deficits."

Guthrie found himself with runners on second and third with only one out in the fifth. Instead of pitching to Manny Ramirez, Trembley elected to walk the vaunted slugger and face Lowell with thoughts of a double play.

"Are you going to face a guy who has hit 500 home runs in his career, or are you going to try one pitch and get the double play and get your guys in at the end of the inning?" Trembley said. "I think it's a real simple option."

The result wasn't so appealing. Lowell crushed a 0-1 slider from Guthrie for his eighth career grand slam.

Guthrie said that the slider didn't dip away from Lowell the way it should have. Instead, he said, it remained in the lower third of the plate, a point from which Lowell is generally a strong hitter.

"He's real good at hitting the ball in that area," Guthrie said. "I guess the best word is, it backed up on me."

Guthrie would leave in the middle of that frame, going 4 2/3 innings and allowing five runs on seven hits. He walked five -- one intentionally -- and struck out one.

The damage accumulated in the fifth but it was compounded by the fact that Guthrie went deep into counts early in the contest and raised his pitch count higher than he would have liked. Trembley pointed out after the game that Guthrie went to eight three-ball counts in the first three innings.

"It was a combination of being a little bit off, and a couple of pitches I thought could be strike three [were not called], and having to pitch five, six more pitches in each of those cases," Guthrie said. "So it was a little bit of a combination of things."

Facing an offense that features almost no easy outs, Guthrie said, made making good pitches increasingly difficult.

"When you do throw a strike, they put the ball in play, and a lot of times, those are base hits," he said. "So one through nine, they're very tough, and it's a tough task for any pitcher."

Still, Guthrie battled and kept the Orioles within one run until that big fifth inning. It didn't help that the O's offense was unable to muster run support for the young right-hander until late in the game. It's a common occurrence when he's on the hill; Guthrie has now received just 10 total runs in his seven losses on the year.

Baltimore's top three hitters went a combined 1-for-10 collectively at the plate against Boston starter Jon Lester, who breezed through seven innings of work, allowing just two runs on seven hits.

"He's got good stuff, there's no doubt about that," said Brian Roberts, who struck out twice on a 1-for-5 day. "You've got to battle."

It also didn't help that cleanup hitter Kevin Millar left the contest in the second inning with a left knee contusion. He fouled off the first pitch of the second inning just below his left knee and would not return.

It wasn't until the sixth inning that Baltimore found its stroke at the plate. Roberts, Oscar Salazar -- who entered the game for Millar -- and Aubrey Huff launched doubles and cut the lead to 5-2.

The Orioles compiled just five runs in the final two games of its series with the Red Sox after erupting for 10 runs in the first game, on Tuesday. Still, with the team's final record on the road trip at 5-4, the players were more than pleased with how they played since leaving Baltimore 10 days ago.

"We played in three tough places to win at -- you know, Minnesota, Toronto, Fenway," Millar said. "We beat some good pitchers. We've got to keep our heads high and come back tomorrow."

And even with the back-to-back losses to end the trip, there's a sense that winning more than they lost away from Camden Yards is a sign of things to come.

"You go 5-4 on that road trip, I mean, that's three pretty good teams," Roberts said. "I think we have a pretty good mind-set, really. I mean, it's too bad we lost the last one ... but it's [still] pretty positive."


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