Thursday, April 8, 2010

O's drop to 0-2 as late rally falls short

Another game, another 4-3 loss to the Rays. This time, though, it was the Orioles who rallied in the ninth -- scoring a run on a Garrett Atkins ground rule double to cut the lead to 4-3 -- but Brian Roberts flied out to center field with two outs and Felix Pie, the tying run, on third base.

As if the Orioles needed another lesson in how important it is to add to a lead late in a game, the Rays, and particularly Evan Longoria, demonstrated that perfectly when Longoria homered in the bottom of the eighth to give the Rays a two-run lead (4-2). That run proved to be the difference as closer Rafael Soriano again had an adventurous ninth inning (two hits, one earned run).

However, the story of the game was the tremendous start by Matt Garza. Garza threw 114 pitches in eight strong innings, allowing just four hits and one earned run while striking out nine and walking only two. Garza's most effective pitch last night was his overpowering fastball, but he also efficiently mixed several sliders and curveballs into his attack to keep O's batters off balance.

For the second straight game, Rays pitchers held Roberts (0-5) hitless, demonstrating that one of the best ways to prevent the Orioles from scoring a bunch of runs is to keep Roberts from getting on base -- no easy task. After battling back from a back injury and a stomach illness, Roberts predictably looks a little rusty and will probably need a few games to get back in the swing of things (sorry for the pun).

O's hitters collected just six hits and two walks and left seven runners on base. Matt Wieters had the only multi-hit game for the O's, going 2-4 with two singles. Wieters also reached on an error in the first inning that allowed Nick Markakis to score all the way from second. The other hits -- all singles besides Atkins's double in the ninth -- belonged to Adam Jones (1-4), Miguel Tejada (1-3, one RBI, one HBP), and Nolan Reimold (1-4). Luke Scott seemed to struggle the most at the plate against Garza, going 0-4 and striking out three times.

In terms of pitching and defense, the O's were pretty solid again. Jeremy Guthrie gave up three earned runs in 6.1 innings, striking out six and walking two. Similar to Kevin Millwood's first start, Guthrie cruised in the first few innings and started to struggle around the fourth and fifth. Will Ohman was effective for the second straight game, retiring all three batters he faced. However, Cla Meredith, who relieved Ohman, gave up the eventual deciding run when he allowed Longoria's solo home run in the eighth. The O's also didn't make any errors and turned two double plays (more on one of them in a second).

This game was well-played for the most part, but it had a couple of moments that reminded me of the O's from last season. In the bottom of the fifth, on a Carl Crawford ground ball to first, Atkins fielded the ball and then oddly enough ran into Guthrie, who was trying to cover first on the play. Fortunately for the O's, Crawford overran the base, allowing Atkins the chance to flip the ball to Roberts for the out. That play wasn't really anyone's fault, but it's easy to see why Atkins isn't necessarily a natural at first base.

Another odd play took place in the bottom of the seventh and again involved Crawford. With a 3-2 count, Crawford appeared to check his swing at a ball low and away and headed down to first base. Home plate umpire Kerwin Danley was convinced that Crawford swung at the ball -- replays showed he clearly did not -- and called him out instead of motioning to the third base umpire for help. But that wasn't all; Reid Brignac, who was on first at the time after a single, figured that Crawford had walked and started to go down to second base. Wieters, who obviously was paying attention since he was in the middle of the action, fired the ball down to second for the double play. Crawford, who still didn't know what had really happened and was basically to first base at this point, proceeded to throw a mini-temper tantrum and actually threw his helmet, yet he was able to stay in the game. Maybe Danley realized he had made an awful call and decided not to make the situation any worse by throwing Crawford out of the game. Rays fans, obviously more than a little unhappy with the call and ensuing double play, decided to boo Danley for the rest of the game, which was funny for a few minutes but got old fast. Now if that's not Orioles baseball, I don't know what is.

The O's fell to 0-2 with the loss but shouldn't feel too bad about themselves since they've been close to wins in both games. The O's can salvage the series a bit with a win tonight when Brian Matusz faces Jeff Niemann.

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