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."


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