Baltimore bullpen lets one get away
Relievers unable to finish off Hendrickson's solid start
ST. PETERSBURG -- It seems as if the Orioles' difficult season has reached a point when the late-inning scenarios simply are replaying themselves.
On Monday, an all-too familiar set of events played itself out in a game against the Rays -- troubles giving up the home-run ball, a bullpen meltdown and, ultimately, another loss.
Despite sporting a three-run lead going into the seventh after a quality start by Mark Hendrickson, Baltimore's bullpen gave up a game-tying three-run homer to Willy Aybar and a sacrifice fly to Pat Burrell en route to a 7-6 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field.
The Orioles have dropped 11 consecutive games, which are the most by the club since 2004 and are tied with the Rays (Sept. 3-13) and Indians (Sept. 13-24) for the longest losing streak in the Major Leagues this season.
Baltimore (60-96) currently sits 36 games below the .500 mark -- the most since the club's 107-loss season in 1988 -- and 22 of its last 47 losses have been by two or fewer runs.
"It has become a situation where no matter who you put in, no lead has been safe," said manager Dave Trembley, whose team is 20-48 since the All-Star break and 20-46 against American League East teams all season. "What it's been is the third out. It seems like there's two outs, and the third one is the elusive one. That's the one that gets away from us."
It definitely got away from them in the series opener.
The O's had a 6-3 lead in the seventh, when the Rays put runners on first and second with two outs, and Matt Albers served up a pinch-hit three-run homer to Aybar on a 2-2 pitch. It was the fourth long ball of the night for Tampa Bay.
Then, with Ben Zobrist on third and one out in the eighth, Danys Baez came out of the bullpen and surrendered a fly ball to center field by Burrell that was deep enough to get the go-ahead run in.
Before Aybar's at-bat in the seventh, pitching coach Rick Kranitz went out to the mound and warned Albers to keep the ball low and away. But what resulted was a hanging slider that eventually traveled up, up and away.
"The matchup for us was to ... sink the ball and keep it away from him," Trembley said. "If you were going to throw a breaking pitch, make sure you get it out of the strike zone and throw it in the dirt. Don't throw it for a strike. Throw it for a waste pitch. That was what we were supposed to do."
The Orioles' bullpen has an 8.72 ERA over the first seven games of this road trip. Collectively, Baltimore's pitching staff has yielded a Major League-leading 209 home runs on the season.
"The home-run ball has been absolutely devastating all year, but during this stretch, it has been prominent in what's been going on," Trembley said.
The Orioles chased Rays starter Jeff Niemann -- an American League Rookie of the Year candidate -- after 89 pitches through just 3 1/3 innings, and they took a 4-2 lead on a two-run homer by Brian Roberts in the fourth. That lead grew by two thanks to RBI singles by Jeff Fiorentino and Melvin Mora in the fifth and sixth.
But it wasn't enough.
"No matter what the situation is, I think we're going out there and trying the best we can to get guys in scoring position. And we did a good job earlier in the game," said Nick Markakis, who finished 1-for-2 with three walks and two runs scored. "[Niemann's] pitch count was up to almost about 60 pitches after two innings. You do that as a team, you're doing something up there."
Hendrickson was coming off his first quality start of the season and followed it up with another one, giving up three runs on three hits and one walk in six innings.
The veteran 6-foot-9 left-hander, who's made 42 relief appearances and 10 starts this season, credited his successful outing to a changeup that, for one reason or another, got lost at some point during his eight-year career.
"For me, it was a matter of probably the best changeup I've had in two years," said Hendrickson, who remains winless in his past nine starts. "Ever since I went to Florida [in 2008], I just seemed to struggle, lose some confidence in it, didn't throw it that much. And then obviously here, going to the bullpen, I didn't really need it.
"Last start in Toronto, I started to use it a little bit more, and ultimately today it's probably the best it's been -- and obviously I think it showed on some of the swings."
As it turns out, Hendrickson really only made three mistakes, and they each resulted in solo home runs -- to Gabe Kapler and Zobrist in the first and to Evan Longoria in the fourth.
"I would say that's probably his best outing [of the season]," Trembley said.
"He did a very nice job. He gave us what he had. He leaves the game with a three-run lead, and it wasn't enough."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.