In the 9th, Orioles Let It Get Away

Sal Fasano
Orioles catcher Sal Fasano tags out the Twins' Luis Rodriguez at the plate in the third inning of Minnesota's 4-3 win. (Ann Heisenfelt - AP)

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By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 20, 2005

MINNEAPOLIS, July 19 -- It is not often B.J. Ryan fails and it certainly never happens on consecutive days. And it certainly doesn't happen when a team doesn't hit the ball particularly hard or extremely far. So when it does happen it isn't so surprising to see the closer slumped in his chair staring at his locker after the game.

Ryan's failure to preserve a one-run lead, which also happened Monday, in the ninth inning in Baltimore's 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday kept the Orioles from tying the Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East. Instead Baltimore fell one game behind the Red Sox, who retook first place with a win against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

"This is game we had to have," first baseman Rafael Palmeiro said. "We had it. We gave it away. It's going to happen. You don't want it to happen, but it happens to everybody. If we're going to be in this thing, we have to put these games away. We got to win these games."

A slow ground ball to first base against Ryan tied the score on Monday. On Tuesday, the Twins tied and then won the game on a throwing error by catcher Eli Whiteside, a wild pitch by Ryan and an infield single by Jacque Jones.

"I didn't have control of the strike zone," Ryan said. "I walked a lefty, which you just can't do. Guys give you a chance after blowing one the night before, and you don't finish the game up. I just let down my team. I didn't do my job tonight. That's what they pay me to do and I didn't do it."

The ninth-inning rally began when Ryan walked Joe Mauer on five pitches. Mauer stole second and then advanced to third on the error by Whiteside, who had entered the game in the ninth because starter Sal Fasano had been pinch-hit for.

"You should be ready to go in there whenever you're put in there," Whiteside said. "Every night you're called you should be ready to go in there. There's no excuse. I didn't have a grip on it. I should have never thrown that ball."

Mauer scored the tying run on Ryan's wild pitch. Ryan followed the wild pitch by walking Matt LeCroy. Torii Hunter followed with a single to right, advancing pinch runner Michael Ryan to third. Jones then hit a slow ground ball up the middle. Shortstop Miguel Tejada lunged for the ball, made the grab, but was off balance and his throw bounced past Palmeiro.

"He made a great play," Palmeiro said. "I wish the ball would have bounced on the turf. Normally you get a better hop off the turf, a truer hop. Plus it's an easier play when the hop is bigger."

Baltimore scored a run in the first inning on a single by Tejada and had an opportunity to score more runs that inning when it loaded the bases against Kyle Lohse. But its rally ended on a double play ground ball by B.J. Surhoff. The Orioles stranded runners in the second and third innings and added another run in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Luis Matos. They stranded runners again in the fifth, sixth and seventh.

Baltimore's offense, though highly regarded, has struggled recently in clutch opportunities. In the past four games the Orioles are 3 for 37 with runners in scoring position. Baltimore also grounded into three double plays on Tuesday.

"You're going to go through stretches like that," Palmeiro said. "I hope you ask me the same question when we go through a streak of scoring eight or 10 runs a game. Because that's the way the game is. We're facing a team with good pitching. It's just the way it is. We're not going to get a hit every time."

The Orioles again played under the shadow of a potential blockbuster trade that could send the Florida Marlins' A.J. Burnett and Mike Lowell to Baltimore in exchange for Larry Bigbie, Jorge Julio, Steve Reed, Hayden Penn and Steve Kline. Bigbie sat for the second consecutive game, though Manager Lee Mazzilli said nothing should be read into that.

For two nights it had appeared that the Orioles were resting the important components of the trade. On Monday, Julio got the win after pitching two innings, though he did not appear in the game until extra innings.

Kline did not pitch on Monday but threw two-thirds of an inning on Tuesday. After Burnett and Lowell both played in Florida's game against the Arizona Diamondbacks it appeared Baltimore had no reason to rest any of its players either. Bigbie pinch-hit for Fasano in the ninth inning. It was Bigbie's sacrifice that had helped the Orioles take the lead.

Then, as rarely happens, Ryan could not hold the lead.


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