Jones Provides Final Blow to Drop Baltimore

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 21, 2005

MINNEAPOLIS, July 20 -- They trudged in, one by one, from the dugout to the clubhouse with cold bats and sullen faces. In the middle of a pennant race, the Baltimore Orioles' powerful offense suddenly looks meek.

For 7 2/3 innings Orioles starter Rodrigo Lopez held the Twins to just two runs despite taking a line drive in the stomach, near the middle of his left ribcage, in the sixth inning. The blow knocked the wind out of him and he lay on the ground for several moments. The team surrounded him and, after several anxious moments, Lopez managed a tiny smile, though he cringed after the grin.

"It didn't get the bone good, but it got my stomach," Lopez said. "I tried to recover as fast as I could."

Lopez picked himself up and finished the inning and then pitched another 1 2/3 innings. But Baltimore's offense appeared winded in a 3-2 loss Wednesday to the Minnesota Twins.

The Orioles have averaged just 2.4 runs in the past five games, leaving them two games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East.

"You've got to win those close games in the middle of a pennant race," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "You've got to come out there and try to score 7-8 runs like we haven't in a while."

The Orioles have not scored seven or more runs since July 9.

The game ended in the bottom of the ninth inning when reliever Jason Grimsley left a sinker up in the strike zone to Jacque Jones, who sent the ball well over the left field fence. Three of the past five Orioles games have been lost in the final at-bat.

"I was just throwing sinkers and I was up a little bit," Grimsley said. "It seems things are going like this where you make a mistake that really wasn't that bad of a pitch and the ball goes out of the ballpark."

Mazzilli said he had no hesitation using Grimsley, who was only activated a week ago after having elbow ligament replacement surgery in October. Chris Ray had warmed up in the bullpen in the top of the ninth but would have entered the game only in a save situation since Mazzilli wanted to rest closer B.J. Ryan, who had blown saves on consecutive nights. The ball was handed to Grimsley, who had pitched just 1 1/3 innings since his return from the disabled list.

"He's in there," Mazzilli said. "He's on the team. He's ready to go. That's where he belongs."

Baltimore's offense appears so jinxed that Miguel Tejada's long drive to right field in the ninth inning struck the fence just short of a home run.

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