- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2001


BALTIMORE Travis Lee did it again.

Two nights after rocking the Orioles with a game-winning homer in extra innings, Lee ripped a three-run home run with two outs in the top of the ninth yesterday to beat the Orioles 5-4 before another sellout at Camden Yards.

The Philadelphia first baseman and cleanup hitter launched a 1-1 offering from reliever Buddy Groom over the right-field scoreboard to delight the Phillies fans in attendance and stun the remainder of the 47,210. It was the Orioles' second loss in 38 games in which they have led after the eighth inning.

Baltimore players and coaches were eager to bolt from the stadium as soon as the game ended to start their three-day respite, but now the Orioles will have to sit on this loss over the All-Star break. They have lost five of six and are 40-47, again a season-worst seven games under .500.

"We had them on the ropes, but we just couldn't put them away," second baseman Jerry Hairston said. "Hopefully we can come back in the second half and play a bit better."

A two-run lead seemed to be enough when Groom, who had established himself this season as a stabilizing veteran presence in the sometimes-tumultuous Orioles' bullpen, came on in the ninth for Mike Trombley.

Trombley, who surrendered Lee's game-winner in Friday's loss, started the inning by retiring Doug Glanville on a ground out and walking Jimmy Rollins. Groom came on to face the left-handed hitting Bobby Abreu and struck him out swinging. Scott Rolen flared a single past Hairston at second to put runners at the corners; then came Lee's homer.

Groom (1-3) was pitching for the third straight day and the fourth time in five games. He tossed 1* innings in each of the first two games of the series but said he didn't feel bad yesterday.

"I told [manager Mike Hargrove] before the game that I was OK, and I felt fine when I was out there," Groom said. "Maybe my stuff wasn't as good as it was the first two days… . Today I just hung a pitch. One pitch in three days, that's not too bad."

Said Baltimore pitching coach Mark Wiley: "Buddy's used to working a lot. He's the guy we wanted in there."

Before Philadelphia's rally, the Orioles appeared poised to steal a game from the NL East-leading club. Baltimore starter Jose Mercedes hardly offered a banner outing against the Phillies yesterday. Though he struggled at times, he was reminded that a pitcher's best friend can sometimes be fine glovework behind him.

Highlight-quality plays in the first (David Segui on a liner), second (Hairston on a ground ball), third (Brady Anderson on a liner) and sixth (Hairston on a grounder) innings helped Mercedes stay out of a big inning. Still, Mercedes, who gave up eight hits and walked three in seven innings, allowed a runner to reach scoring position in six of the innings he pitched.

Baltimore, which managed just five hits against hard-throwing Philadelphia starter Robert Person, trailed 2-1 entering the sixth inning but needed only one hit to take the lead.

Rookie shortstop Brian Roberts singled to lead off extending his hitting streak to 14 games then Person issued walks to three of the next four batters, forcing in a run to tie it 2-2.

Reliever Amaury Telemaco came on with one out and after Melvin Mora's sacrifice fly scored the tiebreaking run, walked Brook Fordyce and grazed Hairston with a pitch to force in the third run of the inning for a 4-2 advantage.

With the bullpen squandering another late lead Orioles relievers have now blown a third of their save opportunities once again there is concern about the reliability of the relievers.

Finding a reliable closer "would be nice," Wiley said. "Hopefully somebody will surface. I don't know how that will happen."

The Orioles, who have two more wins at this point in the season than they did last year, have left themselves with some work to do in the second half. Hargrove seemed cautiously optimistic.

"It's been overall a good first half for us, and we've been able to make progress in the direction we want to go," Hargrove said. "In our situation, we need to keep our eye on the long term."

Note Hargrove said Sidney Ponson likely will start the Orioles' first game after the All-Star break, Thursday at Atlanta.

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