In L.A., Orioles Let One Get Away
Lopez Yields 2 HRs, Gagne Saves Again: Dodgers 4, Orioles 3
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 18, 2004; Page D01
LOS ANGELES, June 17 -- In recent days, the Baltimore Orioles' struggles had gone from being a nuisance to a concern to -- by Thursday afternoon -- an obsession. A handful of hitters showed up at Dodger Stadium about 4½ hours before gametime for early batting practice. Veterans called a players-only meeting. The manager gave his lineup a major tweaking.
But by the end of a 4-3 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in front of 30,465, it felt as if nothing had changed except the method of defeat -- this time, a game-winning solo homer by Dodgers third baseman Adrian Beltre to lead off the eighth inning. Enter closer Eric Gagne, who retired the side in the ninth for his 16th save of the season and major-league record 79th consecutive overall.
The loss was the Orioles' fifth straight and 18th in their past 25 games, and it left them a season-high eight games below .500 (27-35), 14 games behind the division-leading Yankees and 1½ games behind third-place Tampa Bay.
Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora left the game in the top of the first inning with what was later diagnosed as a strained ligament in his left foot. X-rays taken at the stadium were negative, and he is listed as day-to-day, but a trip to the disabled list is a strong possibility, given the amount of pain Mora appeared to be experiencing.
Fittingly, it was right-hander Rodrigo Lopez who lost a 3-1 lead -- on Jason Grabowski's two-run pinch-hit homer in the sixth -- and then served up Beltre's homer, on a 3-2 fastball, to give the Dodgers the lead.
It was Lopez's first appearance since being moved to the bullpen against his wishes earlier in the week -- a move which Lopez condemned publicly, which, in turn, may have in part prompted Thursday's team meeting.
Asked if he thought Lopez's bitterness affected his pitching, Manager Lee Mazzilli said, "I would hope not. That 's his situation. You feel good when you put him in."
Rookie left-hander Erik Bedard, who has not won in nearly a month, pitched five solid innings and left with a 3-1 lead. Lopez (5-3) quickly gave up a double to Beltre to open the sixth, then left a 2-1 pitch to Grabowski over the plate, and Grabowski smashed it into the right-field bleachers to tie the game.
The Orioles had taken a 3-1 lead on B.J. Surhoff's two-run single with one out in the sixth -- one batter after Miguel Tejada, representing the go-ahead run and running on the pitch, lost sight of the ball on Javy Lopez's drive into the left-field corner, which forced him to hold at third base when he otherwise would have scored easily.
Tejada, one of the hitters who showed up for early BP, reached base four times on a trio of singles and a walk.
While Mora's presumed absence means third base is now a question mark for the Orioles -- Jose Leon filled in for Mora on Thursday night and is likely to remain there for the time being -- the game also deepened the level of intrigue surrounding the team's fluid second base situation.
With Brian Roberts benched for the night, Jerry Hairston -- who held the job from Aug. 2000 through May 2003 -- received just his seventh start there this season. He went 2 for 4, raising his batting average to .308, and made a spectacular diving play on Shawn Green's hot grounder to his left to end the third inning.
With about six weeks until the July 31 trade deadline, it remains likely the team will trade one of the second basemen to alleviate a logjam that has left Roberts feeling besieged and Hairston feeling misplaced in the outfield.
Los Angeles's Kaz Ishii was the second in a string of five straight left-handed starters the Orioles will face during this road trip, including three straight this weekend at Colorado -- a fact which bodes poorly for their chances, given the team's collective .236 average against lefties (last in the league) entering Thursday.
Mora's injury took some of the luster off a first inning in which the Orioles took their first lead since the second inning of Sunday's game against San Francisco -- a span of 35 lead-less innings.
Mora appeared to land awkwardly on the first base bag as he hustled back to the bag on a pickoff attempt. He remained in the game and advanced to second base on Tejada's single, but moments later he removed himself from the game.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company