Orioles Waste A Lot of Offense

Gary Matthews Jr.
Rangers outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. rounds the bases following his three-run homer in the top of the 11th that gives Texas an 11-8 win over the Orioles. (Chris Gardner - AP)
By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 28, 2005

BALTIMORE, July 27 -- There are no obituaries to be written yet for this team, but every day the standings seem to bring a somber reminder of how far a team once in first place has fallen. An 11-8 extra-inning loss on Wednesday by the Baltimore Orioles against the Texas Rangers put Baltimore 4 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East behind the Boston Red Sox. It is the Orioles' largest deficit of the season.

To take first place, the Orioles must now get past three teams in the division, as the Toronto Blue Jays tied Baltimore for third place on Wednesday. The Orioles are sinking deeper in the wild-card race as well. They trail the Oakland Athletics by 3 1/2 games. The A's are surging. Baltimore is not.

Wednesday's game was delayed 1 hour 37 minutes because of rain, thunder and lightning that lit up the dull Baltimore sky, and was not decided until approximately 12:40 a.m., when Gary Matthews Jr. sent a first-pitch fastball in the top of the 11th inning over the right field wall for a three-run home run. It was Matthews's second home run of the game. It might have been Baltimore's last gasp at a playoff spot.

If the Orioles have truly sunk out of contention, they can only blame their shoddy hitting. The Orioles loaded the bases in four of the final seven innings, but scored only one run in those situations. Superstar shortstop Miguel Tejada, perhaps the most clutch player in baseball, left the bases loaded three times.

The game was sent to extra innings because catcher Javy Lopez launched a two-run home run against Texas closer Francisco Cordero in the ninth inning. Baltimore then loaded the bases in the ninth against Cordero but did not score. The Orioles had two men on base in the 10th when Luis Matos singled to center. But Matthews threw out a barreling Sammy Sosa at home plate. Sosa slid feet first and raised his right leg trying to lodge the ball out of catcher Rod Barajas's glove. Sosa kicked Barajas in the chest, but did not displace the ball. Barajas took offense at Sosa's tactic and soon the benches cleared. Sosa apologized and the game continued without incident.

The game ended when former Oriole James Baldwin, who had given up a game-deciding home run to Lopez on Tuesday, struck out Tejada with a man on second base. It lasted an excruciating 4 hours 13 minutes.

Orioles starter Bruce Chen has not pitched well since being struck on the lower left shin by a groundball hit by Tampa Bay Devil Rays outfielder Carl Crawford on Friday. In that game, Chen allowed six runs and pitched a season-low 4 1/3 innings in a 7-5 Baltimore loss. The left-hander limped badly for the next several days. Two days after being struck, Chen was still not able to run or perform any of the other parts of his routine. Chen spent most of Sunday in the trainer's room and only came out to stretch with the team. He still limped on Tuesday and had his shin heavily taped prior to Wednesday's start.

Manager Lee Mazzilli never thought twice about sending Chen out to pitch Wednesday, but the pitcher did not look sharp.

The Orioles gave Chen a quick 5-0 lead in the first inning against Texas starter Chris Young. Brian Roberts led off the inning with a walk and then advanced to second base on a bunt single by Melvin Mora. Both scored on Tejada's 22nd home run. Two batters later, Sosa homered over the right field wall.

It was Sosa's third home run in four days and 587th of his career, which put him in sole possession of fifth place all-time, passing Washington Nationals Manager Frank Robinson. The Orioles added another run in the second on a single to left field by Roberts.

But Chen could not hold the lead. He was tagged for five runs, including three homers, in the fourth. In one ugly stretch, three of four Rangers batters (Barajas, Matthews and Mark Teixeira) all hit home runs. The switch-hitting Teixeira had not hit a home run from the right side of the plate all season. Chen was pulled after the fourth inning. He allowed five runs and nine hits.

Neither starter lasted until the fifth inning. Young was replaced by Doug Brocail, who loaded the bases in the fifth and sixth innings but did not allow a run. It was a common theme on a night that appeared to never end.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company