Orioles 4, Rockies 2
This is what the Baltimore Orioles were staring at as Brian Roberts batted against Colorado Rockies closer Shawn Chacon with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the ninth inning Sunday at Coors Field:
An eight-game losing streak, a winless three-time-zone road trip, a growing list of injuries, a 31/2-hour flight home during which to contemplate their awful fate, a visit by the best team in baseball on Tuesday night and the encroaching realization that their once-promising season was teetering on the brink of disaster.
Then Roberts connected on the third pitch from Chacon, and the ball sailed deep into the mile-high air, coming to rest in the third row of the right field stands. And instead of despair, humiliation and potential mutiny, the Orioles had an improbable 4-2 win that had otherwise sane players comparing the feeling to winning the World Series.
"One swing," said veteran first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, "brought us back from the dead."
The Orioles' losing streak, which seemed to feed off itself as one player after another came up lame, is over at seven.
Roberts's grand slam -- which recalled a similar game-winner he hit 13 months ago in Anaheim to beat Angels closer Troy Percival -- sent the Orioles' bench into spasms of euphoria, with half of Roberts's teammates spilling out to meet him on the top step of the dugout.
"They went nuts," said Manager Lee Mazzilli, who thought the team's situation dire enough to have called a team meeting before the game.
And what about Mazzilli's reaction?
"I went nuts, too," he said.
So, a road trip that began with a 14-0 drubbing in Cleveland in a makeup game seven days before -- and that continued with a trio of losses at Dodger Stadium and two more here at Coors Field -- ended with Orioles closer Jorge Julio striking out Preston Wilson to close out the bottom of the ninth and strand the potential tying runs at second and third.
(The alternative ending -- Julio giving the lead back immediately after Roberts's heroics -- would have been almost too painful to fathom.) Chacon, whose ERA of 8.38 condemns the Rockies' decision to try to convert him from a starter to a closer this season, loaded the bases with walks, the third of which, to pinch hitter Luis Lopez, came with two outs. On the Orioles' bench, the tension was almost too much to take.
"We needed a big hit," said lefty B.J. Ryan, who earned the win with 12/3 perfect innings, "and everybody knew it."
In the on-deck circle watching Lopez's at-bat, Roberts hoped he would have a chance to redeem himself for making the final out in Saturday night's loss. And he recalled his at-bat against Chacon on Friday night, when he hit a soft liner to shortstop for the second out of the ninth. The pitch was a fastball that cut in on his hands.
Despite Chacon's acute command problems, Roberts went to the plate looking for the cut fastball again, and vowing to swing when he saw it. It came on the first pitch of the at-bat, and Roberts took a vicious cut, whiffing.
"Maz might have been ready to shoot me," Roberts joked later. "But I knew what I was looking for. . . . I was going to swing."
A wayward slider near Roberts's feet made it 1-1.
The next pitch was similar to the first, except this time Roberts did not miss.
"We tried to come inside on him," said Rockies catcher Charles Johnson, "but the pitch was pretty much down the middle, and [Roberts] capitalized."
Roberts does not remember anything about the first half of his trip around the bases. But he remembers seeing the huge grin on the face of third base coach Tom Trebelhorn as he neared third, and the looks on the faces of Jerry Hairston, David Newhan and Lopez -- the three walkees -- as he turned for home.
"How huge," Hairston said, "was that?"
Asked to contemplate the plane ride home had the Orioles lost, Roberts said: "I know what the flight would have been like. We got a taste of it in the dugout the last three innings. There wouldn't have been a whole lot of laughing and good times."
Orioles Notes: One day after lefty Eric DuBose gave up seven earned runs in 31/3 innings, the team placed him on the disabled list with elbow soreness, which he acknowledged has been bothering him for weeks.
An MRI exam several weeks ago revealed bone chips and a bone spur. He will be examined by team doctor Charles Silberstein on Monday, and could have arthroscopic surgery.
"When you're hurt and you try to go out there, it's not going to help the team," Mazzilli said. "I had no recourse but to DL him. We need players."
The Orioles have until Saturday to decide who will take DuBose's spot. Right-handers Rodrigo Lopez and John Maine are candidates, but the team might also look outside the organization for help.