Wednesday, June 25, 2008

O's halt Cubs' home winning streak

CHICAGO -- See you again in 2126. The Orioles stopped the Cubs agonizingly short of tying their longest home winning streak in the last 118 years on Tuesday, snapping the North Siders' tear at 14 straight games. Baltimore took Chicago's best punch, with the Cubs loading the bases with no outs in the ninth inning and making three straight outs in a 7-5 loss.

The Cubs still tied the longest streak in Wrigley Field history, matching a 14-game mark from the summer of 1936. You have to go all the way back to 1890 -- and to West Side Park -- to find a longer home winning streak for Chicago. Baltimore was more concerned with today, though, and notched its fifth straight series-opening win on the road.

"People that have seen our team play all year, we're kind of used to it," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley, who claimed not to be stressed in the eventful ninth inning. "They're going to have to earn it. We're not going to give it to them. We're not going to kick the ball. We're not going to walk people in. They're going to have to earn it. I've seen it before."

Perhaps he has, but never quite as nerve-rackingly as on Tuesday night. Baltimore closer George Sherrill, who had gotten a key out in the eighth inning, couldn't find his best form in the ninth. Chicago's first two batters reached base, and shortstop Ryan Theriot reached on an infield single. All of a sudden, the Cubs had three cracks at tying the game.

Sherrill dug down -- as he has often before -- and pitched best with his back against the wall. The southpaw struck out pinch-hitter Ronny Cedeno, getting him to flail wildly at a few pitches. And then he struck out Kosuke Fukudome, who had homered earlier and worked a 12-pitch at-bat in the eighth. Finally, he K'd Henry Blanco to end the game.

"He's unbelievable," said second baseman Brian Roberts, who recorded his 1,000th career hit on Tuesday night. "I've never seen anything like it. Our saying is, 'Never in doubt, Georgie, never in doubt.' But gosh, I'm starting to doubt. He's killing me out there. He's killing all of us. But shoot, it's fun. I don't think he ever doubts himself and that's all that matters."

Sherrill, who has 26 saves, agreed with that sentiment, saying that he only gets nervous when someone else is on the mound. When asked if his teammates felt the same way, he said wryly, "They might have doubts."

"I think it's just being lazy," he had said earlier, explaining how he could look so out of sync and then get it back. "Mentally and physically, just not concentrating on mechanics. You see a bunch of pitches sail high and aren't even close. Eventually, you've got to trust your stuff and just concentrate. I guess it takes bases loaded with nobody out to do it."

Baltimore (39-36) had led for virtually all of the game, riding a strong start from Jeremy Guthrie into the later innings. Six of the Orioles' eight starting position players had at least one hit, and five of them drove in at least one run. Luke Scott got things started with a two-run triple in the fourth, and Nick Markakis and Kevin Millar added run-scoring hits in the fifth.

Guthrie, meanwhile, was mowing down the Cubs (48-29). Fukudome reached him for a solo home run to straight-away center field in the fourth inning, but Guthrie (4-7) held steady in the middle innings. Chicago didn't score again until the seventh, when the first two batters reached base on singles and veteran Jim Edmonds cranked a homer to left field.

"It was a lot of fun," said Guthrie of his outing. "It's a historical ballpark. It's a lot of fun to be out there. I wish I would have hit better, maybe touched the bases. I wish I could have gone further in the game, but it was a lot of fun."

Things began to turn in the eighth inning on reliever Jim Johnson's watch, thanks to two epic at-bats. Pinch-hitter Daryle Ward fouled off several pitches to draw a walk, and Fukudome engaged Johnson for 12 pitches before grounding into a fielder's choice. Johnson allowed one more hit, and then Baltimore went to submarine specialist Chad Bradford.

Bradford got one out and allowed a run-scoring single, and Sherrill had to come on to get the final out. Without Johnson's plucky work, though, the Orioles may never have gotten the ball to their closer with the lead intact.

"You've just got to keep making pitches and try to make them put the ball in play," said Johnson, who also got three key outs in the seventh. "You've got to try and make your pitches still and not get frustrated. ... I kept throwing fastballs. I wasn't locating where I wanted to exactly, but they were still pretty good pitches. They just kept fouling them off."

"He kept throwing strikes," added Trembley. "I thought he got a lesson tonight in the pace of the game. Jim will keep going right at you but there's a time to take your foot off the pedal and slow the game down. It's not how hard you throw, it's where you throw. But he's been tremendous for us and this was a great experience for him tonight."

And it was a great experience for the Orioles, who made their first-ever trip to Wrigley Field and thwarted history in the process. They'll play again on Wednesday and Thursday, but those games will be hard-pressed to live up to Tuesday's drama.

"It's a big feather in our cap," said Scott. "It's a humbling experience. Any time you come in and play a first-place team in their backyard and come out with a win -- especially the way they battled us all day -- it's a tremendous accomplishment."


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