Bullpen fails in seesaw defeat
Pirates closer Matt Capps wipes his face after giving up a solo home run to tie the game against the Orioles in the ninth inning last night in Baltimore.
The Orioles' Ramon Hernandez (55) is surrounded by teammates after driving in the winning run against Pirates in the ninth inning last night in Baltimore.
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BALTIMORE -- An incredible feel-good story for the Pirates turned anything but warm and fuzzy last night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Moments after right fielder Xavier Nady went down with a left shoulder injury in the ninth inning, Ramon Hernandez lined a run-scoring single into center field off Matt Capps that gave the Baltimore Orioles an 8-7 victory.
That bottom half of the inning began with Capps allowing a home run on a first-pitch fastball to Oscar Salazar -- his first since 2002 -- that tied the game.
The Pirates had seemed in fine shape in the top half of the ninth when struggling Adam LaRoche hit a two-run home run off left-handed closer George Sherrill for a 7-6 lead.
- Game: Pirates vs. Baltimore Orioles, 1:35 p.m., Orioles Park at Camden Yards.
- TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
- Pitching: LHP Paul Maholm (4-5, 4.55) vs. RHP Daniel Cabrera (5-2, 4.35).
- Key matchup: The rather imposing Cabrera vs. his not-so-imposing recent history. Cabrera, 6 feet 9, 269 pounds, is winless in his past four starts, allowing 30 hits, 12 walks and 18 earned runs in 23 2/3 innings.
- Of note: Maholm, 1-4 with a 6.83 earned run average on the road, has provided at least six innings in nine of his past 10 starts.
"Just one of those games," Pirate manager John Russell said. "It's hard to explain. We had the right guys in there."
That includes left-hander John Grabow, who allowed a two-run home run to left-handed batting Nick Markakis in the seventh, sending the Orioles ahead, 6-5.
That home run erased a 5-4 lead the Pirates had grabbed on Jose Bautista's three-run home run off reliever Matt Albers in the top of the seventh.
"We battled back and gave it right back," Russell said.
"It is what it is," said Capps, who blew his second save in the Pirates' past five games. "I'll hope for a chance to get back out there [today]. It's not fun."
After blowing a game last Tuesday night, Capps said he had three beers instead of his customary two after the game.
So was last night going to be a four-beer night?
"Forty," he said, managing a small smile.
Nady sustained a left shoulder contusion when he crashed into the right field wall in the ninth trying to catch a pop foul hit by Hernandez. Initial X-rays taken last night were negative, but he will have a Magnetic Resonance Imaging test tomorrow in Pittsburgh.
The Pirates, who are off tomorrow, had no immediate plans last night to place Nady on the disabled list. The earliest that will be done -- if necessary -- will be tomorrow or Tuesday.
The bottom of the ninth far overshadowed LaRoche's evening.
In a 7-for-51 slide at game time, he struck out in his first two at-bats before lining a single in the seventh and homering in the ninth.
His homer off Sherrill was improbable. Sherrill had limited left-handed batters to a .129 average this season. He also was 22 for 24 in converting saves.
"[LaRoche is] starting to attack the ball better," Russell said. "That's what he's capable of doing. If he continues to do that for us, it will be a big lift for us."
Russell used LaRoche as the designated hitter last night to ease the first baseman's transition back into the lineup. Doug Mientkiewicz played first base.
"You don't lose anything on defense," Russell said. "Adam's a very good first baseman. Doug's a very good first baseman. We're trying to give Adam some time to get his swing going. DH-ing allows him to relax more and let him just focus on his hitting."
"I'm much better off getting my at-bats and concentrating on my hitting," LaRoche said. "I can look at tape between at-bats and digest the at-bat -- take a quick look at the swing and kind of iron it out on the fly."
The Pirates' bullpen over the past five games has allowed 21 hits, 12 walks and 13 runs in 141/3 innings.
"It seems like each week will take on a different personality," Russell said of the team's pitching. "We're really seeing signs of [the starters] becoming more consistent. Consistency is your biggest friend and your biggest key. We've done a pretty good job the last few weeks."
Baltimore pitching set down the final 17 Pirates batters Friday night. That streak reached 21 in a row before Nady drove his 10th home run over the center field wall, a shot of 440 feet, in the second. It was Nady's first home run since May 29.
The Orioles tied the game in the third after a leadoff double by Adam Jones. Alex Cintron sacrificed Jones to third. The Pirates brought their infield in, but starter Zach Duke couldn't get an "at-somebody" ground ball from Brian Roberts. Instead, Roberts doubled into left-center field.
Freddy Sanchez, in a June swoon at game time with a .184 batting average for the month, quickly put Pirates in front again with a leadoff home run into the left-field seats in the fourth inning.
The Jones-Roberts connection clicked again in the fifth when the Orioles tied the game for a second time. Jones opened with a check-swing high bouncer on which Sanchez had no chance to make a play. After Cintron lined to left, Roberts drove a run-scoring double into right-center field.
The Orioles broke the 2-2 tie in the sixth after loading the bases with one out. Duke worked through a tough at-bat with Jones before striking him out on a 3-2 cut fastball.
Cintron avoided any drama in his at-bat by lining the first pitch into left-center field for a two-run double, setting the stage for the late-inning bullpen battle.
Baltimore third baseman Melvin Mora left the game in the first inning after he fouled a ball off his left knee. The contusion he incurred could keep him out of the game today.
First Published June 15, 2008 12:12 am