Twins 3, Orioles 2

They trudged in, one by one, from the dugout to the clubhouse with cold bats and sullen faces. In the middle of a pennant race, the Baltimore Orioles' powerful offense suddenly looks meek.

For 72/3 innings Orioles starter Rodrigo Lopez held the Twins to just two runs despite taking a line drive in the stomach, near the middle of his left ribcage, in the sixth inning. The blow knocked the wind out of him and he lay on the ground for several moments. The team surrounded him and, after several anxious moments, Lopez managed a tiny smile, though he cringed after the grin.

"It didn't get the bone good, but it got my stomach," Lopez said. "I tried to recover as fast as I could."

Lopez picked himself up and finished the inning and then pitched another 12/3 innings. But Baltimore's offense appeared winded in a 3-2 loss Wednesday to the Minnesota Twins.

The Orioles have averaged just 2.4 runs in the past five games, leaving them two games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East.

"You've got to win those close games in the middle of a pennant race," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "You've got to come out there and try to score 7-8 runs like we haven't in a while."

The Orioles have not scored seven or more runs since July 9.

The game ended in the bottom of the ninth inning when reliever Jason Grimsley left a sinker up in the strike zone to Jacque Jones, who sent the ball well over the left field fence. Three of the past five Orioles games have been lost in the final at-bat.

"I was just throwing sinkers and I was up a little bit," Grimsley said. "It seems things are going like this where you make a mistake that really wasn't that bad of a pitch and the ball goes out of the ballpark."

Mazzilli said he had no hesitation using Grimsley, who was only activated a week ago after having elbow ligament replacement surgery in October. Chris Ray had warmed up in the bullpen in the top of the ninth but would have entered the game only in a save situation since Mazzilli wanted to rest closer B.J. Ryan, who had blown saves on consecutive nights. The ball was handed to Grimsley, who had pitched just 11/3 innings since his return from the disabled list.

"He's in there," Mazzilli said. "He's on the team. He's ready to go. That's where he belongs."

Baltimore's offense appears so jinxed that Miguel Tejada's long drive to right field in the ninth inning struck the fence just short of a home run.

"It only missed by a couple of feet," Mazzilli lamented.

The three Orioles starters in this series -- Lopez, Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera -- yielded a total of four runs, but none of them picked up a win.

"They pitched as well as you can pitch for three days," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "When that happens you need to win."

Baltimore's only runs on Wednesday came on Rafael Palmeiro's 17th home run of the year, which was also the 3,010th hit of his career, tying him with Wade Boggs for 23rd all-time on baseball's hit list. The home run was his 1,190th extra base hit, tying Lou Gehrig for sixth all-time.

Otherwise, the Orioles were dumbfounded by Twins starter Brad Radke and relievers Juan Rincon and Joe Nathan. The Orioles scored just one run in six innings against the Twins' bullpen in the series.

"I can explain it," designated hitter Jay Gibbons said. "Their pitching was good. Their bullpen is unbelievable. I've never seen arms like that in my life."

Gibbons, who was just 1 for 9 in the series with two double plays, did a double take when reporters approached him after the game.

"Why do you want to talk to me?" Gibbons asked.

Roberts, who was 2 for 13 against the Twins and hitless on Wednesday, quipped, "Probably for the same reason they wanted to talk to me. Because we [stunk]."

All three games in the series were decided by one run. The Orioles lost a lead in all three games.

"These kind of teams never give up and they came back every time," Lopez said. "They came back every game."

Perhaps a trip to Florida to play Tampa Bay will help jump-start Baltimore's offense. The Orioles have averaged slightly more than six runs a game in six games against the Devil Rays.

The Orioles said they are looking forward to Thursday's off day in St. Petersburg, Fla., which perhaps will give the struggling offense a chance to catch its breath.

The O's Jason Grimsley leaves the field as the Twins celebrate Jacque Jones's game-winning homer. Minnesota won in its last at-bat for the 2nd night in a row.