Devil Rays 6, Orioles 1
-- Only the bravest souls, with loyalty rather than logic dictating their actions, dared to appear at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Friday night. Movie houses were likely stuffed, restaurants possibly packed in record crowds and bars must have been at full capacity as the Baltimore Orioles began a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays that likely drove away the casual baseball fan. In the stands, only the most ardent fans, the ones who lay claim to bleeding orange, anticipated this showdown between two of the worst teams in the American League.
The only real drama belonged on the scoreboard, where teams much better than the ones playing here were fighting for playoff spots.
It took only two pitches for the Devil Rays to claim supremacy in their 6-1 win against Baltimore. Shortstop Julio Lugo doubled on Rodrigo Lopez's first pitch and then scored on the next, which was sent to center field for a ground-rule double by Carl Crawford. One minute had passed and already the Orioles were in trouble.
"I think their plan was to swing early," Lopez said. "I think they just swung on the first pitch to get on base. I was always trying to establish my fastball. They tried to take advantage of it. But for me the key is throwing strikes."
Lopez allowed singles to the next two hitters, Jorge Cantu and Aubrey Huff, and Tampa Bay had a 2-0 lead after the first inning.
Lopez allowed consecutive home runs to Crawford and Cantu in the third inning and the Devil Rays, in this battle of the meek, appeared to have a commanding 4-0 lead. Lopez lasted six innings, allowing four runs on eight hits.
It was Tampa Bay's fielding blunder, so fitting for a game like this, that put Baltimore back in the game in the fifth. With runners on first and second, Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts lofted a ball to left-center field. Crawford and center fielder Joey Gathright ran toward the ball, but neither seemed intent on making a play. Instead the ball dropped between them and rolled near the wall.
Luis Matos scored, but the slow-footed catcher Geronimo Gil only ended up at third. It sent the crowd of 19,972 into a frenzy. But Baltimore did not score another run in the inning.
"We could have made the game a little more interesting," Orioles interim manager Sam Perlozzo said.
The fielding blunder, ruled a double, was only one of two hits against Tampa Bay starter Scott Kazmir, who pitched six innings. The Devil Rays added two runs to their lead in the seventh. Julio Lugo doubled and scored on a sacrifice fly and Cantu hit his second home run of the game. It was Cantu's fourth two-home run game of the season, a Tampa Bay record.
"He's having a great season," Perlozzo said. "Everything we see and hear from him has showed me he's a good hitter. He didn't miss any mistakes tonight."
After the inning, several of those loyal fans walked up the aisle and out of the stadium. They missed watching Baltimore strand their 10th, 11th and 12th runners.
"The harder you try, the less you do," catcher Javy Lopez said. "That's probably what we're doing right now."
The Orioles loaded the bases in the ninth when Tampa Bay reliever Jesus Colome, carrying a 6-1 lead into the ninth, could not throw strikes. Matos reached base on an error to start the rally and pinch hitter B.J. Surhoff and Roberts walked to load the bases. A game that had already seemed excruciatingly long suddenly became longer. The Devil Rays brought in closer Danys Baez, who struck out Melvin Mora and forced a groundout from Miguel Tejada to earn his 36th save. The Orioles have now stranded 403 runners since the all-star break.
"It's kind of been one of our problems when we aren't winning games," Perlozzo said.
Not many fans had stayed for the Orioles' rally in the ninth. Many had left after Baltimore stranded two runners in the seventh. Even loyalty, however blind it may be, has its limits.