Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Roberts' Ninth Inning Heroics Not Enough

BALTIMORE -- Turnabout may be fair play, but it isn't always evenly distributed. Baltimore and Pittsburgh swapped places on Sunday, spurring one team to empathize with its opponent's plight from the previous night. The Orioles tied the game late and fell to a 5-4 loss in extra innings Sunday, allowing the Pirates to avenge a similar result from Saturday night.

Pittsburgh had scratched out a late rally against Baltimore closer George Sherrill on Saturday, only to see the Orioles come back and spin a game-winning burst in the bottom of the ninth. That process reversed itself on Sunday, when second baseman Brian Roberts tied the game with two outs in the ninth and Sherrill had his second straight tough outing.

"It wasn't a normal three games -- that's for sure," said Roberts, who homered in the ninth. "We've kind of come to expect that this year. ... We always know in the late innings if we give ourselves a chance, at least we will fight our last nine outs."

"We felt all along that we were going to come back and win," added manager Dave Trembley. "There's no doubt about the approach here, or our thought process. We're thinking we're going to win. Even when we're down, 4-1, we thought we were going to find a way. Last game of a series, and the way things have been going, late in the game, things get interesting."

Sherrill had been 12-for-12 in save opportunities at home before the weekend, but the Pirates (34-36) reached him for three hits in Sunday's game-winning rally. First baseman Adam LaRoche -- who had homered off the relief ace on Saturday -- delivered the go-ahead hit in the top of the 10th, and Sherrill wound up falling to his second loss of the season.

In the aftermath, Sherrill said his shoulder felt tired and mentioned that he could use Monday's off-day to recharge.

"My arm was dead," he said. "I didn't feel like I had anything, and it showed. I didn't feel like I could get anybody out today. It's natural. Looking back at it, I think I've thrown in seven or eight out of 12 [games] or something like that."

"It just goes to show you he's human -- that's all," said Trembley of Sherrill's rough weekend. "It happens to the best of them. There [are] guys with a lot more experience than he has and have been in this game at the big league level [longer] that have struggled. They all go through it, but it just goes to show you how valuable of a guy he's been to us."

The Orioles (34-34) had trailed for virtually all of Sunday's game, falling behind in the third inning and staying there until Roberts hit a two-run homer that barely cleared the left-field wall in the ninth. Baltimore had leveraged its lineup so much that it wound up sending its designated hitter into the field in extra innings, a last-ditch effort that rarely occurs.

Pittsburgh had to do the same thing, but the altered defensive alignments didn't make a difference.

"We've been playing really good baseball," said O's left fielder Jay Payton, who singled in the ninth inning. "The good thing is, when we get down, we feel like we have a chance to come back and win the ballgame. Our pitching's been great, we've been able to swing the bats a little bit better of late, and we're just playing some good baseball right now."

All of that late energy helped redeem Baltimore starter Daniel Cabrera, who reverted to his old walk-happy ways. The right-hander walked five batters and hit two others, sinking the Orioles to an early deficit. Cabrera has worked 16 innings and allowed 16 earned runs in his past three starts, pushing his ERA up nearly a full run (from 3.60 to 4.45).

His wildness caught back up to him on Sunday, but Cabrera managed to escape damage in the first and second inning. Center fielder Nate McLouth broke open a double shutout with a solo home run in the third, and Cabrera wilted soon after that. The right-hander walked one batter and hit another, and two runs came home on a two-out hit by Jason Michaels.

"I felt better than the last start -- they got me with three runs in the third inning, and that's what made the difference," said Cabrera, who has gone five starts without a victory. "I think [my fastball is] still a little flat. I didn't get the same movement that I had early, but I'm working on it and I hope I have some better movement for the next start."

Baltimore's offense started stirring in the fifth inning, when backup catcher Guillermo Quiroz hit a solo home run off Pittsburgh starter Paul Maholm. Aubrey Huff pulled Baltimore within two runs with another homer in the sixth, and McLouth helped stall a seventh-inning rally by making a two-out diving catch in center field off a Payton drive.

"I thought it was definitely down," said Payton. "He's probably a little bit more shallow because it's second and third instead of first and second. Being a little bit more shallow probably allowed him to get to it. I thought it was definitely going to fall."

The Orioles went quietly in the eighth, and didn't really begin to stir until there were two outs in the ninth. That's when Roberts reached out and drove a Matt Capps offering just over the left-field wall, scoring Oscar Salazar from first base. Capps (1-2) had also allowed the late Baltimore rally on Saturday, but he rebounded Sunday to pitch the 10th and seal the win.

"You can't play from behind every day," said Roberts of his team's dramatic bent. "You don't want to do that every day. But we certainly feel confident enough to do it. It's not a big deal at this point, but you want to give yourselves some runs early on. You want to give your starting pitcher something to work with. That would make it a little easier, certainly."


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