Julio, Orioles Unable to Close Out Blue Jays

Tejada
Baltimore shortstop Miguel Tejada reacts after striking out Wednesday against Toronto. The Orioles fall to the Blue Jays, 7-4, for their 14th loss in the past 19 games. (Chris Gardner - AP)

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By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 8, 2005

BALTIMORE, Sept. 7 -- It was yet another devastating night for a pitcher trying to regain the gaze of a champion and the heart of a closer, but who continues to crumble with each game. Jorge Julio, running in from the bullpen in the middle of Wednesday's Baltimore Orioles game, was met at the mound by shortstop Miguel Tejada and third baseman Melvin Mora, who appeared to counsel the struggling pitcher.

"You look good," Mora said he told Julio.

Julio, this season, is always one pitch away from unraveling and any encouragement is appreciated. It is true that when Julio is locating his pitches and has confidence in his breaking ball, there may not be a more intimidating pitcher on the roster. But those moments have been rare this season. Julio, trying to hold a lead for Baltimore on Wednesday night, faltered again, leaving the Orioles 7-4 losers against the Toronto Blue Jays.

The reliever allowed two runs in the seventh and took his fifth loss of the season. He appeared dominant in the sixth inning, when he retired all three batters. But he was inconsistent again in the seventh, when he allowed two runners to reach base with one out.

"He made progress," Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo said. "I was happy. He shouldn't hang his head how it ended up."

Julio did not hang his head, but instead had it up high when he left the clubhouse furious. With his young son by his side, Julio walked out without talking to reporters and simply said, "I'm [bleeping] out of here."

His anger was not directed at reporters, though. Julio can trace his downfall to an outing on June 7 when he allowed four runs in an inning to the Pittsburgh Pirates. From that moment, Julio believes, Orioles coaches lost all confidence in him. His appearances began earlier and earlier and Julio grew more frustrated each time out. At times, Julio has been perplexed as to why his coaches don't allow him an opportunity to get out of his own messes. Wednesday's two runs charged to him both scored on singles off Chris Ray.

If it won't be Julio closing next season, even though the Orioles are unlikely to re-sign B.J. Ryan. Ray might be the man, though his outing on Wednesday gave no comfort either. Brought in to relieve Julio, Ray allowed two hits and walked one and was yanked from the game without having retired a batter. Julio has allowed runs in six of his past seven outings, ballooning his ERA to 5.62. It has been quite a fall for a man once thought to be Baltimore's closer for the next decade.

"If we were to lose B.J., I don't know what we would do," Perlozzo said. "If you don't sign B.J. Ryan, you have work to do."

Julio would not have been in the game had starter John Maine been able to stretch his outing to the later innings. There are concerns that Maine is just a four- or five-inning pitcher. Perlozzo said Maine surely must pitch more than five innings if he is to be considered for a spot in next year's rotation. Maine has not pitched more than five innings in any of his four starts this year.

"You can't keep going five innings," Perlozzo said. "He's got better stuff to go deeper into the game than that."

He cruised on Wednesday until he reached that crucial fifth inning. Prior to the fifth, Maine had allowed just one run on a sacrifice fly by Corey Koskie in the first inning. At one point, Maine retired 12 of 13 batters and appeared headed for a win. In the fifth, Gregg Zaun led off with a home run to tie the game at 2. Reed Johnson followed with a double and then scored on a single by Orlando Hudson. Though he had thrown just 89 pitches, Maine was taken out after that inning.

"It's frustrating because you usually go at least six," Maine said. "I'm still throwing too many pitches, walking too many guys, getting too deep in counts. The guys here are patient. They sit. They make contact. They make you fight for it. This is the major leagues."

Perlozzo said Maine's short outing was the reason he was forced to send Julio in for another inning. Under better circumstances, Julio would have been taken out after his perfect sixth inning. Instead the lead and Julio both crumbled.


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