Sunday, July 20, 2008

Scott, O's are walk-off winners

BALTIMORE -- For three hours and forty-eight minutes on Saturday night, the Orioles and Tigers played a back-and-forth game of "anything you can do, I can do better."

Ten innings, 10 runs on both sides and 28 combined hits later, Orioles left fielder Luke Scott turned an 0-1 offering from the Tigers' Freddy Dolsi into a towering home run 420 feet out onto Eutaw Street, sending the Orioles home walk-off winners, 11-10.

"Kind of appropriate on a night when they're giving away those Orioles Magic tapes that something like this would happen," manager Dave Trembley said. "People who have been watching the club all year have seen similar type events like this. I tell you, every time it happens, it just makes you a little more proud to be around these guys, because they will not quit."

With his teammates awaiting his arrival at home plate, Scott sent his batting helmet into the fray like a bowling ball and slid into home, an exclamation mark on the win.

"He's like a little kid," said catcher Ramon Hernandez, who had his own drama an inning earlier. "He gets excited even when he gets a single. For him, he really loves the game. He'd play all day long -- twenty-four hours a day, he would play baseball. He's a great guy. It was a great game. He gave a lot of emotion."

In a game where both teams each had their own six-run innings, it was obvious early on in this one that the winner was going to be whoever could land the final blow. The Tigers looked to be the victor when they took a 10-9 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning and the ball in the hands of flame-throwing right-hander Joel Zumaya.

Enter Hernandez. Knowing the importance of his leadoff at-bat in the ninth, Hernandez sent the first pitch he saw from Zumaya into the left-field seats -- knotting the game at 10 and giving the Orioles, who hadn't scored since the fourth inning, new life.

"He's a tough pitcher... Tonight, he was throwing 100," Hernandez said of Zumaya. "Since I was batting leadoff, I knew I was going to get a fastball the first pitch. If I get a first pitch to hit, I was going to try to do the best I can, because if I fall behind against him, there's not going to be too many chances you're going to get."

The Orioles couldn't muster anything else off Zumaya in the inning, however, and the game was sent to extras. In the top of the 10th, the Tigers looked to have a shot at plating the go-ahead run yet again when Placido Polanco tried to score on a single to center by Gary Sheffield. But a strong throw by center fielder Adam Jones gunned down Polanco at the plate and ended the Tigers scoring threat.

"I did everything right," Jones said of the throw. "I set myself up, took my time and made a good throw... [I just thought] 'Throw it, throw it as hard as I can.' I've been throwing the ball high, so I just tried to keep my mindset down."

All this in a game where the Orioles were down 6-0 before they even stepped up to the plate. As Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson strode up to the plate for his second at-bat of the first inning, it was clear it was not going to be the best night for Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera.

Cabrera matched a season-high in earned runs in the first inning alone, as the right-hander allowed six runs on four hits -- two of them home runs -- two walks and a hit batsman.

"We got off to a terrible start," Trembley said. "Six pitches and we're basically behind, 6-0. The ball just wasn't coming out of Cabrera's hand very good. There wasn't much finish to it. To his credit, he's a horse. He put three zeros up. He was totally gassed."

When it did get its chance at the plate, Baltimore's offense was equal to the task. After putting up two runs in the first on a two-run homer by Melvin Mora, the Orioles did the Tigers' first-inning show one better in the third. Baltimore sustained a rally of eight hits -- a season high for one inning -- that saw six of its first eight baserunners come around to score, as the O's went from being on the wrong side of a blowout to commanding a one-run lead in a matter of minutes. Brian Roberts had two doubles in the inning, including an RBI-double that scored what was then the go-ahead run, to become the first Orioles to do that since B.J. Surhoff hit two in 1999.

But the Tigers offense, which was quiet from the third to the sixth inning, added three runs in the sixth and took a 10-9 lead.

Despite his rocky start, Cabrera outlasted his counterpart, Nate Robertson, who pitched just 2 1/3 innings, and was able to escape with a no-decision, tossing five innings while allowing six earned runs on five hits, five walks and a hit batsman.

The win was the Orioles 29th comeback victory of the season, and it was just the second time all season that the Tigers have given up a game when leading in the eighth inning.

"As a unit, when we go out there and we play, we're not focused on the scoreboard," Scott said. "We know we've got nine innings -- maybe more -- so each inning we go out there and we play, and that's all you can say."

Monday, July 7, 2008

Orioles' comeback falls short in finale

BALTIMORE -- It was the pitchers' duel that wasn't.

In the finale of the Orioles' three-game series with the Rangers, pitching was certainly not the strong suit for either team as the two lineups combined for 21 runs on 29 hits and 12 walks. With the league's best offense in their corner, however, the Rangers came out on top of Sunday's slugfest, 11-10. It was the Orioles' 13th consecutive Sunday loss.

The Rangers blew open a 6-5 game in the eighth inning, tagging Orioles relievers Jim Johnson and George Sherrill for five runs in the inning to open up an 11-5 lead. But the Orioles' offense, which had been quiet since the fifth inning, simply would not let Baltimore go quietly -- a Nick Markakis three-run shot in the eighth and two solo home runs by Kevin Millar and Melvin Mora in the ninth, evidence of that.

"I thought we were going to get one today, we kept coming back and coming back," said manager Dave Trembley. "But it comes down to the tempo of the game set by the starting pitcher, and for the most part today right out of the gate, [Radhames] Liz was struggling. He got out of some tough jams early in the game, but his pitch count was way up and it just didn't happen.

"It was obvious," Trembley said of Liz's lack of control. "He had to work way too hard to get three outs. Way too hard."

Liz never looked to have his best stuff, allowing the first three Rangers batters of the game to reach, but was able to limit the damage to one run until the third inning. Liz then struggled with his control in the remaining 2 2/3 innings he was on the mound, throwing 103 pitches, and allowing six runs -- four of them earned -- off seven hits, five walks and two wild pitches.

It was the right-hander's second-shortest outing of the season; his shortest was a two-inning start at Milwaukee on June 26. Liz said he felt that he did not have all of his pitches working for him and his location was off -- especially on David Murphy's three-run homer to left field.

"I think my slider [was off] a little bit, but I think my changeup was good," Liz said. "My fastball just wasn't located well sometimes -- many times. When I got out of trouble in the first inning, in my mind I thought I got them, and after the second inning -- it was a good inning. But then in the third inning I got in trouble again. It's going to happen sometimes, it's not going to be perfect every time."

Liz's counterpart on the mound, Kevin Millwood, wasn't much better for the Rangers. The Orioles scored a run in each of the first three innings and two in the fifth before re-igniting in the eighth. Second baseman Brian Roberts was again the offensive catalyst for the Orioles, getting on base in the game's first at-bat, stealing second and third and coming around with the Orioles' first run on a sacrifice fly by Aubrey Huff. Roberts then added a solo home run to begin the third and the Orioles tacked on two more with a sustained rally that took them through the first eight batters of the lineup in the fifth.

But nonetheless, staring down the barrel of a six-run deficit heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, the Orioles offense came up swinging. The Orioles' first five batters reached in the inning -- the fourth being Markakis, who helped cut that six-run lead in half with one swing. Millar then led off the ninth with a solo shot to left -- his first home run since June 6 -- and three batters later, pinch-hitting for Freddie Bynum, Mora took the second pitch from C.J. Wilson and over the left-center-field wall, pulling the Orioles within an attainable run.

"I didn't even give them a chance to pitch to me," Mora said. "I just crushed the second pitch I saw. I know they don't want me to get on base because they don't want the tying run to come to the plate and I know they're going to try to stay on top of the count. I thought [we'd come back], especially with the leadoff guy coming to the plate followed by Nick [Markakis]."

Ultimately, the Orioles' offense, which went 2-19 with men in scoring position, simply couldn't overcome the hole their pitchers had dug for them. The teams used a combined 11 pitchers in this one, the Orioles sending six different hurlers to the mound while the Rangers used five, and none pitched with overwhelming effectiveness.

The Orioles' pitching woes were compounded in the fifth inning when reliever Adam Loewen left the game mid-batter with left elbow discomfort. Loewen, who was making just his third appearance since coming off the disabled list on June 30, will get a CT scan on the Monday morning to determine the extent of the problem.

"I think we gave it everything we got," Trembley said. "I think our team's ... success or failure is dependent upon what your starting pitching does. I think that's the name of the game, 90 percent of it is your starting pitching.

"We felt we were going to win today, even when they scored five runs in the eighth, we felt like we were going to win," Trembley said. "I don't think that's ever changed and I don't think that will ever change."

Friday, July 4, 2008

Huff's two homers spoiled in loss

BALTIMORE -- Garrett Olson allowed two home runs on Thursday night, but the ball that hurt him most barely traveled 95 feet.

That ball, an apparently harmless nubber to first base, turned out to be a game-changing error that spurred a seven-run rally for Kansas City, removing Olson from the game and as the pitcher of record in a 10-7 loss for the Orioles.

Afterwards, Baltimore manager Dave Trembley calmly discussed his decision to go to the bullpen, which resulted in a fusillade of hits and runs. The Orioles allowed five hits and a sacrifice fly after Olson left to shift the balance.

"I'm not going to let Olson lose the game," Trembley said. "He'd already been behind 3-0. We came back and took the lead and he's the guy that walked the guy. He's the guy that gave up the 0-2 hit and obviously the momentum of the game was definitely changing right there. Let's get him out with a no-decision and at least try to win the game with a no-decision."

Olson had allowed three runs in the first three innings -- two on solo homers -- but his offense backed him with five runs in the fourth and two more in the fifth. The southpaw took a four-run cushion into the sixth before walking the first batter and allowing a double. But then he appeared to rebound, striking out one batter and coaxing a slow roller to first base.

There was only one problem: Kevin Millar, normally one of the team's steadiest defenders, couldn't corral a high hop. The veteran appeared to take his eye off the ball to look at the runner, and he wound up double-clutching and deflecting the ball past first base. One run scored on the play, but the action was just the beginning for the beleaguered Baltimore bullpen.

"Tough inning, tough inning," said Millar, who had only made two errors all season. "We had that game in hand and it was just one of those games where it fell apart. Couldn't stop the bleeding. Obviously, the error at first base, and we couldn't stop the bleeding -- five, six, seven hits after that. It's just one of those things and it's a tough loss."

"I think I created my own trouble in the sixth inning," added Olson. "You can't walk the leadoff hitter. A 2-0 count and I go back to a changeup. You've just got to be aggressive right there. If he does something with that pitch -- the worst case, a home run -- it's still not going to get them close, especially with that kind of lead. You just have to get that leadoff hitter out."

Trembley agreed with that sentiment, and he went right to southpaw Adam Loewen to try to stem the tide. Kansas City (39-47) notched three straight singles, though, before the Orioles (43-41) went to veteran reliever Chad Bradford. Mark Grudzielanek greeted him with a game-tying single, and Alex Gordon put the Royals ahead for good with a sacrifice fly.

Two more runs scored in that inning, and the Orioles were never able to find a rebuttal. The seven-run inning was the highest-scoring all year for any Baltimore opponent, and the participants just wanted to put it behind them.

"Until the manager comes to get the ball," said Loewen, who took his first loss as a reliever and fell to 0-2 for the season, "you stick it out and try to make the best pitches possible. And that's what I was trying to do. I don't feel like I unraveled out there. It was them making good swings, and all I can do is bounce back and be ready tomorrow."

"You've got to give Kansas City credit," Trembley said of the seven-run onslaught. "We gave them an opening and they took advantage of it and got a big inning, so that's all I can say. We gave them an opening with a leadoff walk and then the error in that inning and they made us pay for it. ... Loewen just pitched up and so did Bradford."

The late turnaround wasted a huge night at the plate for Aubrey Huff, who doubled in the first inning and contributed his second multi-homer game of the season. Baltimore trailed by three runs when Huff hit his first shot, a solo homer over the right-field fence in the fourth inning. The Orioles went on to score four more times to briefly take control.

Center fielder Adam Jones and shortstop Brandon Fahey contributed back-to-back triples in that rally, marking the first time the franchise had done that since August of the 2000 season. Huff knocked again in the fifth, when he drilled a two-run homer to give the Orioles a 7-3 lead. The veteran had also homered Wednesday night and now has 17 for the season.

"I've had some hot streaks," he said, "But over the last month, it's probably the best I've felt in a while."

Olson had won his last outing, but he's given up at least four earned runs in four of his last five starts. The left-hander has also given up two home runs in four of his last seven starts, and he's completed six innings in just four of his first 13 games. Both he and Trembley acknowledged that he has to start getting deeper into games in order to help the team.

"I don't know what it is," Olson said. "Maybe around that time, I start to feel like I get in a groove and maybe step back a little bit. You can't do that. You have to stay aggressive and stick with what worked for you early in the game. I think the leadoff hitter is a huge part of it, getting strike one. That's something I'm really going to have to focus on right now."

"I'm going to talk to [pitching coach Rick Kranitz] about it," said Trembley. "I've seen it with [Radhames] Liz as well. They've got to take that next step and get past that. They get to the fifth and we have a lead. And then they get to the sixth and we have a lead and then I think they get a little tentative. So I would think they've got to be a little bit more aggressive and get through that."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Cabrera in complete control in win

BALTIMORE -- Daniel Cabrera turned the page Wednesday night, putting a disastrous month behind him with a dominant outing. The hulking right-hander gave up two runs in the first three innings, but turned around to retire 14 straight batters between the fourth and the eighth innings, saving his bullpen and leading the Orioles to a 5-2 win over the Royals.

Cabrera, perhaps more than any other Oriole, needed that positive result. He had gone seven starts since his last victory, and his June ledger produced an unsightly 0-3 record with a 7.06 ERA. Cabrera (6-4) started shaky on Wednesday by allowing a leadoff home run to David DeJesus in the first inning, but rebounded after Baltimore's offense took control.

"It's good that month is over already," said Cabrera, who has thrown two complete games this season, with both coming against Kansas City. "It's a new month, and I'll just keep working and trying to keep doing what I do."

Baltimore's bullpen had thrown 14 innings in its previous three games, all of which were decided by two runs or less. Closer George Sherrill had thrown the previous three days, so manager Dave Trembley knew he needed Cabrera to go deep on Wednesday. And he told him as much, ratcheting up the pressure on his 6-foot-9 workhorse.

"When I met him on the top of the stairs last night," said Trembley, "I said, 'Hey, you know, our bullpen's pretty beat up. You've got to go deep into the game tomorrow night.' And he told me he would. But he [had] pitched a real good game against these guys in Kansas City. I thought late in the game the momentum played right into his hands. He was throwing first-pitch strikes and he got some 1-2-3 innings with less than 10 pitches in back-to-back innings. That probably really helped him a lot."

"It was nice to see," said Aubrey Huff, "to look back at the bullpen tonight and you don't see George warming up, giving him a day off with the arm. You can't say enough about him pitching a complete game. The bullpen really needed it."

Cabrera allowed the leadoff man to reach base in each of the first four innings, but he stranded runners in scoring position and used a third-inning double play to limit the damage. Trembley has often said that you can tell how Cabrera pitches by how he fares in the early innings, a prediction that seemed prescient after DeJesus took him deep to right field.

The Orioles (43-40) dug out of that deficit immediately on a two-run home run by Huff in the bottom of the first, and Baltimore answered Kansas City's next rally with another run of its own. Cabrera allowed a leadoff single in the fourth and balked the runner over to second, but then he kept the Royals (38-47) off the bases into the eighth.

With the victory, Cabrera improved to 5-0 with a 2.21 ERA in eight career starts against Kansas City.

"Well, you're probably not going to see Cabrera pitch any better than he did tonight," said Trembley. "His poise was outstanding. I thought really a small thing in the game that was probably a key element was ... when he balked and I sent [pitching coach Rick] Kranitz out to the mound to talk to him because I could see the smoke coming out of his ears."

"It was just one mistake in the game," said Cabrera, who didn't walk anyone for the fifth time this season. "I was mad at myself a little bit, but I just got back and said, 'You've got to keep doing what you're doing.'"

Baltimore gave him some more help in the fifth inning with a short rally off Kansas City starter Gil Meche. Leadoff man Brian Roberts walked to start the threat, and then Nick Markakis doubled on a ball that center fielder Joey Gathright saved from being a home run. Two batters later, Markakis scored when Ramon Hernandez singled through a drawn-in infield.

The Gathright play saved a sure homer, as the fleet-footed defender jumped high enough to get his elbow over the fence. He couldn't come down with the ball, though, and Markakis cruised into third base on an error by Mark Teahen.

"I think [Markakis] didn't think he hit it that good," said Trembley. "I thought it was an extra-base hit, but obviously a lot of balls that we hit tonight were right on the button and they made some tremendous plays in the field. We could've had a whole lot more runs if it weren't for some of the plays they made. They looked pretty good in the field. We had to match them."

Huff has hit five home runs this season that have given the Orioles a lead, and he's already matched his home run total (15) from last season. The veteran designated hitter said that it felt good to rediscover his power stroke.

"Last year, it was a struggle all year long," Huff said. "This year, I just came in here and tried to relax a little bit more. Last year, I think I tried to do too much. I really can't explain it. I feel a little bit looser and a little bit more relaxed."

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