By Marc Carig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
BALTIMORE, Sept. 23 -- Already in the midst of one of his worst seasons, Baltimore Orioles reliever Jamie Walker added to his growing collection of lows.
Walker blew a two-run lead on a night when he wasn't supposed to pitch, giving the Tampa Bay Rays a 7-5 victory in the nightcap of a doubleheader.
Walker's meltdown, combined with a blundering 5-2 loss earlier in the night, gave the Rays a sweep, sending the Orioles crashing to their eighth straight loss.
"Every night's difficult," Walker said. "It just seems right now the ball's not falling into place. That's a game -- there's no excuses there -- that's a game we've got to win. Your starter goes into the eighth inning, two outs -- you've got to win that game."
The Orioles came into the eighth inning, behind the work of Alfredo Simon, with a four-run lead. To that point, Simon had allowed just one run in his major league debut as a starter, impressive considering that he was playing in the Mexican League about a month ago.
But in the eighth, Simon had already allowed another run to score when Evan Longoria launched a tape-measure shot that ended his night.
The real drama, however, was unfolding behind the left field fence.
As Simon wobbled toward the end of his outing, Manager Dave Trembley called for right-hander Jim Miller to warm up. But as Miller finished his final tosses, he felt pain.
"I'm warming up to come in," Miller said. "I was about 20 pitches deep. Everything felt fine. And I threw two sliders and it just grabbed right next to my armpit on my right side."
The pain sent Miller to the ground, triggering a scramble to find a replacement.
As catcher Guillermo Quiroz stalled for time by visiting Simon on the mound, the 37-year-old Walker hurried to finish his warmup pitches. When he entered, the Orioles still had a two-run lead.
But that changed when Walker failed to retire any of the four batters he faced. His line: zero innings pitched, three hits, a walk, a wild pitch and four runs allowed.
Said Trembley, "That's a tough way to lose."
The performance provoked a torrent of boos from the remnants of an announced crowd of 15,215, frustrated by a team limping to one of the worst Septembers in franchise history.
Walker fell to 1-3 with a 6.87 ERA. If he doesn't pitch again this season, it would the highest of his career since finding a niche as a left-handed specialist with the Detroit Tigers in 2002.
Meanwhile, the playoff-bound Rays accomplished another franchise first in a season that has been full of them, sweeping both ends of a doubleheader for the first time ever. The two victories cut the Rays' magic number to two for clinching the AL East title -- another first.
A victory in the series finale on Wednesday -- combined with a loss by the Boston Red Sox -- would seal the title.
The Orioles started the day by delivering what has become a standard-issue losing effort of late, falling to the Rays in the opener after another late-season display of sloppiness that illustrates how far the playoff-bound Rays have risen and how far the Orioles have tumbled.
Rays starter James Shields allowed just two runs in seven strong innings to tie Rolando Arrojo's franchise record with 14 victories.
Orioles left-hander Garrett Olson pitched well enough to keep his team in contention, though it wasn't good enough to overcome some critical miscues, including a botched pickoff throw by Olson that led to a run.