Orioles Creeping Toward Last Place
Dodgers 6, Orioles 3
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 17, 2004; Page D05
LOS ANGELES, June 16 -- The Baltimore Orioles had not shown signs of life all night -- all month, really. Then, suddenly, someone on the Los Angeles Dodgers' bench detected a faint heartbeat. A six-run lead had been cut in half in the eighth inning.
It was time to bring out the dagger. It was time to bring in Eric Gagne.
Just like that, a burgeoning Orioles rally was snuffed out by the potent right arm of Gagne, the Dodgers' record-setting closer, and an inning later, the Dodgers had a 6-3 win in front of a crowd of 35,070, while the Orioles were sent deeper into a disquieting team-wide funk.
With Gagne collecting the last four outs for his major-league-record 78th consecutive save, the Dodgers maintained their hold on first place in the National League West, while the Orioles -- losers for a fourth game in a row, and the 11th time in their last 14 -- suffered one giant indignity.
Their loss, coupled with Tampa Bay's win at San Diego, put the Orioles behind the Devil Rays into fourth place in the AL East, after having spent 69 of the previous 72 days in first, second or third. Only one game separates the Orioles from last-place Toronto.
In addition to another tepid offensive showing, this loss was set apart by a particularly awful defensive performance -- which included a stretch in which the Orioles managed to make three errors in a span of two batters -- and a shaky return by lefty Matt Riley, who committed two of those errors and gave up five of the Dodgers' runs.
Riley, making his first start in the majors since April 27, lasted only four innings and gave up a towering three-run homer to good friend and former minor league teammate Jayson Werth in the fourth inning.
Much has transpired in the lives and careers of Werth and Riley since the days when they were fast friends, teammates and the best catching and pitching prospects, respectively, in the Baltimore Orioles' farm system all those years ago.
Werth has been through two more organizations and is no longer a catcher. Riley has undergone elbow surgery and a halting maturation process. It didn't quite work out as they had hoped, back when they used to talk about being battery mates on championship teams in Baltimore.
Riley, who has been moved to the bullpen, placed on the disabled list and sent to the minors since that last start, pitched brilliantly in spurts Wednesday night. He did not allow a hit until the third, and he gave up his first two runs on infield singles.
"I thought I pitched really well," he said. "I attacked the hitters. One pitch can ruin the whole game for you."
Werth came to the plate with two on and two out in the fourth. Werth, whom the Orioles traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in December 2000 for the immortal John Bale, drove Riley's 2-1 offering into the bleachers in left, flipping his bat aside casually as he launched into his trot.
"He caught me for four years," Riley said. "The guy knows me."
Given the sorry state these days of the Orioles' offense -- which had scored one run in its previous 21 innings entering the game -- the Dodgers' five-run lead at that point was as good as a victory, especially with lefty Odalis Perez on the mound.
A few of the Orioles' hitters were familiar with Perez, having been on the receiving end of a whipping two years ago in Baltimore, in which the young lefty shut them down on four hits over eight dazzling innings. Those who were not already familiar with Perez certainly were by the time he finished handcuffing them on five hits over seven innings Wednesday night.
Javy Lopez's ninth homer of the season, a solo blast in the seventh, was all the Orioles managed off Perez in those seven innings. But they began cobbling together a rally in the eighth against the Dodgers' bullpen -- that is, until Dodgers Manager Jim Tracy decided to end the foolishness, and got Gagne up in the bullpen.
As Jerry Hairston said, "Nobody's perfect, but he's pushing the envelope."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company