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."


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