Braves 5, Orioles 4
The Atlanta Braves star was certain his hit had a chance to be a home run because he had put all his energy into the mighty swing. The Baltimore Orioles manager was not sure because the ball seemed to sail high into the bright Atlanta sky, perhaps too high, and fell near the left field fence. The left fielder, listed at 5 feet 10 inches, ran toward the wall, certain if he leaped he could make a play.
David Newhan jumped at the wall but was just inches short of making a catch. Instead, Andruw Jones's game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of the Braves' 5-4 victory Saturday sent Baltimore to a season-high fourth consecutive loss and left Manager Lee Mazzilli to ponder his substitutions.
Because of injuries, Mazzilli could make very few moves, but he did insert Newhan into the lineup late in the game as part of a double switch, replacing lanky Larry Bigbie.
"I should have left the 6-4 guy out there," Mazzilli said.
"Heredity is a bitch," Newhan said. "I'm only so tall."
The situation appears bleak for Baltimore. The Orioles have lost nine of their last 11 road games and are a season-high 11/2 games out of first place. Since Monday, they have lost 41/2 games in the standings to the Boston Red Sox, who have won 11 of 12.
"We have a long way to go, but we don't want to get too far behind," Newhan said.
Injuries are limiting the Orioles' options. Third baseman Melvin Mora (strained right hamstring) and outfielder Eli Marrero (bad back) were unable to play. Only Newhan and Jay Gibbons were available to pinch-hit.
Backup catcher Geronimo Gil was only to be used in an emergency situation. That situation surfaced in the top of the ninth when, with the score tied at 4, Mazzilli sent Gil to hit against righty Jorge Vasquez with the bases loaded. Gibbons and Newhan had already pinch-hit. Gil, who entered the game hitting just .217 against right-handed pitchers, grounded into a double play.
"We ran out of options," Mazzilli said. "It's not helping especially when we're coming to an NL park. Yeah, it's crippling. You only have two guys and two moves you can make. You're deadlocked."
For the second consecutive day the Orioles made a stirring comeback that fell short. Trailing 4-1, Baltimore scored three runs in the ninth inning against Braves closer Chris Reitsma.
"It's unfortunate to battle back that hard and then lose," catcher Sal Fasano said.
Mazzilli brought in closer B.J. Ryan in the eighth inning but pinch-hit for him in the top of the ninth. Mazzilli was forced to bring in Todd Williams to pitch the ninth. He got ahead of Jones 0-2. But on a 1-2 pitch Williams threw a sinker that simply laid over the plate. Williams was trying to get the ball inside. Jones said he was trying to hit a home run.
"When he first hit it, I thought it was gone," Williams said. "I didn't even look back."
He was perhaps the only one who thought so. The Orioles on the bench all climbed to the top step of the dugout to watch Jones's drive. After the ball sailed over the fence many of them, including Mazzilli, watched the Braves celebrate. With the loss, Baltimore has lost five of six games on the road trip.
"It's a tough loss, no question," Mazzilli said. "You can't fault them for how they are playing."
The Orioles fell into a bit of bad luck that has been characteristic of this trip when starter Bruce Chen left the game after only 42/3 innings because of a sprained big toe. Chen had not allowed a run.
"He had a great outing working," Fasano said. "That's the rough part about an American League team going into the National League. You hate to have something happen to our pitchers. Our pitchers aren't used to running around."
Mazzilli had to rely on his bullpen, which had pitched six innings in Friday's loss to Atlanta. Jorge Julio allowed four runs in the seventh, when the Braves broke the scoreless tie. Mazzilli, left with a weakened bullpen and bench, was helpless.
"We were," Mazzilli said, "a little short today."