Orioles fall as Gonzalez can't close it out
Closer allows two runs in ninth; Jones, Scott, Wieters homer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- After a spring of insistence, new Orioles closer Mike Gonzalez was not a man of his word Tuesday night.
Signed to a two-year, $12 million contract in the offseason, Gonzalez spent his first camp with Baltimore preaching that when Opening Day came, his low velocity readings and lackluster spring would be forgotten. Instead, it served as a harrowing precursor as Gonzalez couldn't hold down a ninth-inning lead, allowing the Rays to walk off with a 4-3 win over the Orioles in front of a sold-out Opening Day crowd of 36,973 at Tropicana Field.
"Seriously, I'm disgusted by the whole thing," Gonzalez said. "You see [starter Kevin] Millwood go out there and pitch a gem. The bullpen did awesome -- they did great, they did what they had to do, they grinded. Our offense did what they were doing all last year. They're going to get their runs, and I've got to come in and shut the door."
Clinging to a one-run lead, Gonzalez struck out designated hitter Pat Burrell before rookie Sean Rodriguez singled and pinch-hitter Kelly Shoppach followed with a double off the top of the left-center-field fence, sending the Rays' home dome into fervor. Gonzalez intentionally walked Jason Bartlett to load the bases, and All-Star Carl Crawford put Game No. 1 in the books with a double to right on Gonzalez's second offering.
"We got ourselves to the ninth inning, and Gonzalez is our guy, and we just didn't get the three outs," manager Dave Trembley said.
"That's the way it is. That's how it will be. There is no one else that's going to close it. That's Gonzalez. [Will] Ohman is going to come in and match up [lefty] against [lefty]. He did a tremendous job. [Jim] Johnson is your eighth-inning guy. More times than not, it's going to work in your favor. It didn't [Tuesday]."
To his credit, Gonzalez made no excuses. Physically, he said, it was the best he's felt all spring. The same was true of his velocity, which topped out at 93 mph.
"I felt surprisingly really good; I've just got to tone it down a little bit," Gonzalez said. "That means getting the ball down a little more. Those pitches up, they took advantage of them."
The same wasn't true on the other side of the dugout. While Gonzalez rightfully shouldered a portion of the blame, the Orioles squandered several opportunities to add late insurance runs.
Solo homers from Adam Jones, Luke Scott and Matt Wieters provided the O's only runs, despite a lineup that churned out 11 hits. Baltimore's bats went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position, stranding 10 runners.
"Seriously, I'm disgusted by the whole thing. You see [starter Kevin] Millwood go out there and pitch a gem. The bullpen did awesome -- they did great, they did what they had to do, they grinded. Our offense did what they were doing all last year. They're going to get their runs, and I've got to come in and shut the door."
|-- Mike Gonzalez|
The lone hit with a runner in scoring position came courtesy of No. 9 hitter Cesar Izturs, who beat out a textbook bunt down the third-base line to move Garrett Atkins over to third. Atkins doubled off Rafael Soriano to open the ninth, but a pair of fielder's choices and cleanup hitter Miguel Tejada's lineout to left field -- sandwiched in between Nick Markakis' walk -- ended any thoughts of adding to what was then an Orioles lead.
"That was definitely what killed us, for sure," leadoff hitter Brian Roberts said. "We just left too many guys out there. We had some opportunities with men on third and less than two outs, and we didn't take advantage.
"We swung the bat well at times, and then at times when we needed to, we didn't."
There were bright spots to Tuesday's loss. Jones rolled over an impressive spring campaign into a 3-for-5 debut, falling a triple short of the cycle. Matt Albers, Ohman and Johnson combined for three scoreless innings and Millwood battled through five-plus frames -- allowing two runs on nine hits.
But in the end, it was all for naught.
"We hit some balls right on the button that didn't fall in, and unfortunately then it comes back to you've got to get the last three outs in the game," Trembley said.
"You've got a one-run lead going into the ninth, [so] what you have done earlier in the game is a wash. It doesn't really matter. It comes down to getting those three outs in the ninth."
Two of which never came for the Orioles, despite leading throughout the previous 8 1/2 innings.
"You are going to lose tough games sometimes," said Millwood, who was disappointed he wasn't able to pitch deeper. "[On Tuesday], they got the big hit when they needed it, and that's just the way it is."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.