- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. The Baltimore Orioles' bullpen is so unreliable that it can't even protect a lead against the worst team in baseball.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who have the worst mark in the majors (17-34), rallied to beat the Orioles 4-3 last night when reliever Buddy Groom served up a two-run eighth-inning homer to Fred McGriff before 13,870 at Tropicana Field.
Groom was summoned after Mike Mussina had kept the Devil Rays in check for seven innings, giving up just two runs and four hits. But although Mussina had made just 91 pitches his second shortest outing of the season Orioles manager Mike Hargrove replaced him with Groom, who had been his most reliable reliever this year, to start the eighth.
The move immediately backfired. Groom walked Jose Guillen to start the inning and, after a sacrifice, McGriff slammed a pitch over the right-field wall.
The homer marked the 14th blown save of the year for the Orioles' relievers, who are now 10-12 with a 6.71 ERA.
The bullpen's implosion wasted the eighth straight strong pitching performance by the Orioles' rotation. During that span, the five starters have worked a combined 55 and 1/3 innings with a 2.28 ERA.
The Orioles (23-27) almost had a chance to rally after a bizarre scene in the ninth inning. With two out, B.J. Surhoff hit a slow grounder to shortstop Felix Martinez and was called out on a close play at first by first base umpire Brian Runge.
But Surhoff, first-base coach Eddie Murray and Hargrove all argued Surhoff was safe because McGriff's foot was off the bag when he caught the ball. Runge and crew chief John Shulock ultimately overturned the call after a 10-minute argument.
Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild filed a protest, and it seemed that it might be necessary when Charles Johnson singled Surhoff to third. But closer Roberto Hernandez then fanned Brady Anderson on a 3-and-2 pitch to really end the game.
While the bullpen will bear the brunt of the blame for the loss, the Orioles' impotence at the plate didn't help. As usual with Mussina pitching, their hitters went through the game on cruise control.
In his first 11 games that Mussina pitched, the Orioles gave their ace a total of just 33 runs. That 2.90 runs per game average is a large reason why Mussina has started the season 2-6.
The Devil Rays' Cory Lidle, summoned from the bullpen to make his first start, faced only 10 batters over the first three innings. The Orioles got to him in the fourth as Mike Bordick led off with an infield single, Will Clark singled him home for just his fifth RBI of the season and then scored on a single by Cal Ripken to put the Orioles up 2-1.
Ripken drove in another run in the sixth when he was hit by a Lidle pitch with the bases loaded to make it 3-1. Lidle was replaced by Mark Guthrie, who kept the Orioles from doing further damage by striking out Harold Baines and getting Surhoff to pop out. Guthrie and two other relievers held the Orioles scoreless and hitless for the final 3 and 2/3 innings.
Mussina got off to a slow start because of an uncharacteristic lapse of control. With one out in the first, he hit Jose Guillen and walked Steve Cox, setting up an RBI single from Vinny Castilla to put the Devil Rays up 1-0, the first time they'd taken a lead this series.

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