By Andrew Astleford
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 30, 2008
Closer George Sherrill sat with ice packs wrapped around his left shoulder, a pensive man in a quiet corner of the visitor's clubhouse.
Less than 20 minutes earlier, the curtain on another Baltimore Orioles victory awaited its fall: a one-run lead in the bottom of the 12th, one on, two outs, a trusted closer on the mound.
Then the unexpected turned Sherrill's performance into a tragedy: a two-run, line drive home run to left field off Ronnie Belliard's bat.
"It was a good pitch, actually," center fielder Adam Jones said. "He just got a good swing on it."
The Washington Nationals beat the Orioles, 3-2, yesterday afternoon at Nationals Park, and Sherrill walked from the mound as if he were witness to a wake: His face turned toward the infield grass, his shoulders slumped, he scratched his crew cut as if he were confused.
"It was a slider," Sherrill said. "But it didn't get there."
It didn't, and Sherrill was left to place it all in perspective. The collapse was atypical of his recent performances. He had earned four consecutive saves without allowing a run. His save count stands at 26, and his ERA is a respectable 3.53.
But a single home run made him numb.
"That's baseball," Baltimore Manager Dave Trembley said.
For Sherrill, the pain could have been prevented. He replaced Dennis Sarfate in the bottom of the 12th and retired Pete Orr (strikeout) and Paul Lo Duca (groundout) with ease before walking Dmitri Young. One pitch before the Nationals swarmed Belliard at home plate, Sherrill's 94-mph fastball was called outside, making the count 1-2. Fans in orange shirts booed, pleading that the pitch caught the corner. Later, when asked if the umpire missed the call, Sherrill offered a curt "yeah."
"If they called it a ball," Trembley said, "it's a ball."
Afterward, Baltimore's clubhouse mirrored Sherrill's mood. TVs were silent. A table where cards were once dealt stood bare. Only the soft sound of shower water pierced the silence, hardly a conversation to be found.