- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 14, 2002

CHICAGO As much as the Baltimore Orioles have struggled to score runs this season, opposing teams have found it an equally daunting task to score off the Orioles' bullpen. Entering yesterday's game against the Chicago White Sox, Baltimore relievers had not given up a run in 24⅔ innings, an encouraging sign during an otherwise dismal two weeks.
Just one problem: In winning only two games, both blowouts, the Orioles had yet to take a slim lead into the late innings this season, the ultimate test for a young bullpen. Until yesterday.
Handed a one-run lead in the eighth inning, setup man Willis Roberts was the victim of clutch hitting by the White Sox and a tough double error by Melvin Mora, resulting in a blown save and a 4-3 loss at Comiskey Park.
"It happens," said starter Scott Erickson, whose seven strong innings were wasted. "There's not a bullpen in the league that doesn't blow a couple wins here and there."
Unfortunately for the Orioles, there hadn't been any opportunities to save a game (or blow one, for that matter) through the first nine games of the season. Manager Mike Hargrove tried to get young closer candidates Roberts and Jorge Julio to treat every outing as though it were a save situation, but the Baltimore manager admits that "you can't reproduce the pressure and the tension of pitching the ninth inning with a one-run lead."
The collapse came in the eighth inning rather than the ninth yesterday, but the tension was still present when Roberts took the mound with his team up 3-2.
After striking out Royce Clayton, Roberts gave up a single to Kenny Lofton, who is 8-for-12 in his last three games. A wild pitch moved the speedster to second and set up the key play of the game, involving both teams' second basemen.
Chicago's Ray Durham rapped a grounder up the middle, and utility man Mora filling in at second base while Jerry Hairston battles a strained groin muscle appeared to make a backhanded stop. The ball bounced off Mora's glove, accounting for one error. Mora's bad throw to first, allowing Lofton to score the tying run, constituted the second error.
"No excuse; I thought it was a routine play," Mora said. "It's not difficult, because I've been playing the position for a while. It's part of the game."
Frank Thomas then singled Durham to third, and after striking out Magglio Ordonez, Roberts (0-1) hung a 1-2 splitter to Paul Konerko, who singled to left to score the winning run.
"I threw only one bad pitch today the last pitch to Konerko," said Roberts, who had not been scored upon in five previous outings.
Mora's double error spoiled an otherwise outstanding day for Baltimore's most versatile player. Injuries to left fielder Marty Cordova and Hairston have thrust him into the starting lineup all 10 games this season, even though he has far more experience at shortstop and center field. Mora, however, has played admirably at both positions and would have been the hero of the game for Baltimore yesterday after reaching base four times and scoring two runs.
Mora walked in the third, stole second, took third on a passed ball and scored on a single by David Segui. He beat out an infield single in the seventh, went all the way to third on a pickoff attempt gone awry and scored on a sacrifice fly by Chris Singleton.
But it was the double error an inning later that still haunted Mora an hour after the game had ended.
"I can't get it out of my mind," he said. "This club needs every little thing to win games. If I don't do the right thing, we're not going to win."
Though the Orioles had put themselves in position to win for only the third time in 10 games this season, they still continue to struggle at the plate. They managed just four hits off Todd Ritchie and relievers Antonio Osuna (2-0) and Keith Foulke (fourth save), one of them a solo homer by Tony Batista in the fourth.
Five regulars are batting under .230, with veterans Mike Bordick (.129) and Singleton (.111) struggling the most.
"We've got four or five guys really pressing right now," Hargrove said.
Erickson turned in another strong outing: two runs, eight hits, no walks in seven innings. The right-hander has a 2.57 ERA in his return from Tommy John surgery and has not walked a batter in his last two starts, but he has just one victory.
"There's nothing you can do," he said, "so there's really no point getting frustrated about it."

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