By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 4, 2008
BALTIMORE, July 3 -- It started with a walk, a gift issued by Baltimore Orioles starter Garrett Olson on only four pitches. But that failed sequence -- fastball, fastball, change-up, fastball -- leading off the sixth inning had consequences. Problems multiplied.
It was a slow and painful process. Walks. Singles. Sacrifice flies. The Kansas City Royals chipped away, punishing Orioles pitchers. Seven runs later, a 7-3 lead turned into a 10-7 deficit, and three innings later that score turned final before 16,782 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"We gave them an opening with the leadoff walk," Baltimore Manager Dave Trembley said, "and they made us pay for it."
Baltimore's bullpen contributed -- it could not provide a lift in the sixth, when the Orioles so desperately needed it -- but the question remaining for the Orioles (43-41) has to do with their pitching: Why do their starters struggle past the fifth inning?
The issue has been pervasive, and the Orioles have not found answers. The team's starters have failed to work deep into games -- Baltimore has only received two complete-game performances -- with the glaring and recent exception being Daniel Cabrera's nine-inning gem Wednesday against Kansas City (39-47).
"They got to take that next step and get past that," Trembley said of his starters. "They get to the fifth and we have a lead, and then they get to the sixth we have a lead and I think they get a little tentative. So I think they have to be a little more aggressive and get through that."
Olson was Exhibit A on Thursday night. He pitched 5 1/3 innings and allowed six runs on eight hits with two strikeouts and two walks. Olson was fine until the sixth, spoiling an otherwise quality outing.
"Maybe around that time I start to feel like I get in that groove and start to step back a little bit, and you can't do that," Olson said. "You have to say aggressive and stick with what worked for you earlier in the game and get those quick innings. I think the leadoff hitter is a huge part, getting strike one. That's something I will have to work on, continued starts."
The Baltimore loss spoiled Aubrey Huff's two-home run, three-RBI performance that sparked the Orioles to the four-run lead. Then came the sixth. The seven runs yielded by the Orioles in the frame is a season high.
José Guillén led off with a walk on four pitches. Billy Butler doubled to right field, moving Guillén to third. Matters were made worse later, when Baltimore first baseman Kevin Millar bobbled then booted a routine ground ball. Guillén scored, and Olson was removed.
Adam Loewen (0-2) entered, offered no progress and eventually absorbed the loss. His evening:
· Ross Gload singled to score Butler from third.
· Tony Peña Jr. singled to load the bases.
· David DeJesus singled to score Mark Teahen from third.
Trembley saw enough from Loewen, at that point, and inserted Chad Bradford. Bradford followed Loewen's lead. Kansas City's Mark Grudzielanek saw three pitches before cracking an RBI single into right field, bringing home Gload. Peña later scored on a sacrifice fly and DeJesus came home on a single to center by Guillén, making his second plate appearance in the inning.
The Orioles eventually shuffled into the clubhouse with a loss and a few lingering questions about their starting pitching, after one walk unraveled their entire evening and continued a trend.
"I kind of created my own trouble out there in the sixth inning," Olson said. "You can't walk the leadoff hitter on an 2-0 count. You've got to be aggressive. You've just got to get that leadoff hitter out."