Braves 8, Orioles 7
-- After what Manager Lee Mazzilli deemed the worst loss of the Baltimore Orioles' season, players greeted Matt Riley like he was a survivor at a funeral. One by one, they looked at him with mournful eyes and offered their condolences.
"Guys came up to me and kind of said they were sorry," Riley said. "But something like this still takes your breath away."
The Orioles lost to the Atlanta Braves, 8-7, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Sunday, squandering a great outing by Riley, their starting pitcher. Riley pitched six strong innings and left the game only to watch the bullpen fumble away a 7-0 lead.
With the loss, Baltimore fell 11 games under .500 for the first time this season. Worse yet, the Orioles found a way to drop two of three games to the Braves even though their starting pitchers gave up just one earned run in three games.
"This is just incredibly tough to swallow," Mazzilli said. "But what are you going to do? We've got to just forget it and keep moving. I can't give up and sink in the tank."
That's about what the Orioles did during an epic collapse in the eighth inning, when Baltimore's relievers treated new pitching coach Ray Miller to a first-hand viewing of the problems he will need to fix. The Braves scored seven runs on seven hits during the inning, which looked more like pregame batting practice.
With no outs, J.D. Drew smashed a two-run homer against reliever Mike DeJean and the Orioles began to watch their lead melt slowly away. Jason Grimsley came into the game, committed a costly throwing error and then gave up four consecutive hits, which led to four runs that would eventually allow the Braves to steal the lead.
"That's terrible," Grimsley said. "There's just no excuse for that."
Baltimore relievers had been far from trustworthy this year, blowing seven of its past 11 save opportunities. Still, they had yet to do anything like this.
"You don't have a lot of comebacks when you're down seven runs," Atlanta Manager Bobby Cox said. "But they were hooting and hollering in the dugout to get it going and they did."
Still, the Orioles had a chance to tie the game in the ninth inning. Miguel Tejada made his way to third base with only one out, but Atlanta closer John Smoltz struck out Javy Lopez and induced Larry Bigbie into a weak ground ball.
"You've got to get that run in," Mazzilli said. "That hurt us."
It had to hurt Riley the most. He pitched brilliantly Sunday, continuing a series-long trend established by Daniel Cabrera on Friday and continued by Rodrigo Lopez on Saturday. Riley struck out seven in six-plus innings, and pitched his best with runners on base.
Riley looked strongest in the second inning, when he recovered from a leadoff double by striking out the next three batters. He set up hitters with a 90-mph fastball and finished them with a 75-mph curveball, a combination that left Andruw Jones so befuddled he never swung during his at-bat.
After Riley induced inning-ending double plays in the third and fourth innings, he walked off the mound with his arms swinging in excitement.
"I just felt great out there," he said. "I made some very strong pitches, and everything was going our way."
For once, it even seemed the Orioles would let the other team litter a game with errors and poor judgment, instead of doing so themselves. After committing four errors in their past three games, the Orioles' defense played flawlessly for the first seven innings.
Meantime, Braves second baseman Jesse Garcia made three key mistakes that led to most of the Orioles' scoring. He threw wildly on a potential inning-ending double play in the third inning, and Jerry Hairston and Brian Roberts went on to score.
Garcia saved his biggest blunders for the sixth. He neglected to cover second base on a harmless grounder to the shortstop, blowing a probable double play.
Then he muffed a hard-hit grounder later in the inning, and the Orioles capitalized by scoring five runs and taking the 7-0 lead.
"Looked like we had it," Riley said. "But I guess nothing is a sure thing."
Orioles Notes: Players said Miller seems like a natural fit after just two days on the job. "Everybody feels great about it," Mazzilli said. "We clicked right away. He's feeling out the pitchers, but he's already getting comfortable." . . .
Third baseman Melvin Mora sat out with a strained left foot for the eighth time in nine games, but he's expected to return Monday.