BALTIMORE, SHORT ON ARMS, LOW ON GAS, LOSE TO WHITE SOX, 8 - 6.Tom Morris. 1st August, 2005 - 1:21 am
A.J. Pierzynski connected for a three-run homer in the eighth inning today at Oriole Park at Camden Yards; Jermaine Dye followed with his 21st home run in the four-run frame. Pierzynski's home run proved later to be the game-winner as the Chicago White Sox came from behind to stun the bewildered Baltimore Orioles 9 - 6, handing the home team its 12th loss in 14 games.
Chicago twice erased two-run deficits in the game against a Baltimore team which continued their recent difficulties holding leads late in games. The Orioles fell below the .500 mark (51 - 52) for the first time since the first week of the season, when they were at 2 - 3.
It was Pierzynski's 15th homer of the season, already far surpassing his previous season-high of eleven. His newfound power stroke is just one of many surprising improvements on a team that won its second straight following a three-game losing streak.
In addition to losing the game, the Orioles also lost another starter early on. For the second time in three games a comebacker to the mound hit a Baltimore starting pitcher on the pitching hand, forcing a very early exit. Against Texas in the third inning Thursday it was Sidney Ponson taking a ground ball off his right thumb. Today, in the second inning, Daniel Cabrera had a grounder deflect off the back of his hand. In both cases the pitchers were making last-ditch efforts to field the ball barehanded. In both cases they had to leave the game immediately.
This forced the Orioles bullpen into action, once more far ahead of schedule, and it showed. Bruce Chen was even called in to pitch, two days before his start date two days from now. He surrendered two runs in the fifth inning, losing the Orioles' first lead when Joe Crede hit a solo shot off him to start the inning. Juan Uribe followed with a double and scored on a single by Tadahito Iguchi, tying the game at four apiece. Iguchi later finished a three-hit night with an RBI single in the ninth, while Chen allowed two runs on four hits in 1 1/3 innings, raising his ERA to 4.44.
For Chicago, Jose Contreras had his own fair share of trouble, giving up 6 ER on six hits and 3 walks, and was set to be the losing pitcher of record upon his exit before the seventh inning.
It started when Baltimore squashed an early 2 - 0 C
Chicago lead with a four-run fourth; they loaded the bases with one out for Brian Roberts, who drove in two with a double. A subsequent wild pitch brought home another run, and Eric Byrnes drove in Roberts for run number four for the inning. Byrnes, in his debut in an Orioles uniform went 1 - 5 for the day, one run batted-in.
Later, after Chen gave up the tying runs, Rafael Palmeiro stepped in against Contreras and swatted his 18th home run of the season, a two-run shot to give the birds the lead at 6 - 4. it was Palmeiro's 569th for his career, as well as his 1, 191st extra basehit, which moved him ahead of Lou Gehrig for sole possession of sixth place on the all-time list.
But, as mentioned, the lead did not last for much longer; holding a lead --especially late in games is a quality which has eluded the Baltimore pitching staff in big games against Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Texas, and now Chicago. And the fact that the bullpen was in dire need of some rest did not help.
"I think everybody's gassed out there but me," said Steve Kline, who allowed the final run in the ninth.
Likewise, Lee Mazzilli echoed the sentiment: "You come out two of three days and have to scrap for guys in the [bullpen]. They're giving you every last breath they have. They're pushing the limit. I can't ask for anything more."
Still, key players on the team continued to sound optimistic this plummet in the standings would come to an end. Lee Mazzilli used a partially convincing metaphor of not folding up tents, while Jay Gibbons acted puzzled:
"We know we can win because we have the same team we did in April and May. I have no clue what's going on right now."
They may be the same team, but whatever the reason --and despite its passing our collective understanding-- they certainly are not playing the same baseball, and they are far, far away from winning ball games as their early-season twin did. This team may start piling up the wins, for sure. But only a sizzling-hot winning streak modelled on those shown by the Astros and Athletics can save this team's postseason hopes. In reality, the only thing left worth saving will be their pride.