- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 13, 2002

BALTIMORE Mike Hargrove hasn't used pinch hitters much this season, not because the Baltimore Orioles manager doesn't believe in the practice but because he quite frankly doesn't have the talent on his bench to do so with much confidence.

The eighth inning of last night's 1-0 loss to the Oakland Athletics exemplified this.

With runners on first and second and one out, Hargrove decided not to let left-handed batter Jay Gibbons face southpaw reliever Mike Venafro. Hargrove's best alternative, however, was Jose Leon, a rookie infielder who has 33 career at-bats and is 0-for-7 against right-handers.

With that in mind, A's manager Art Howe summoned Chad Bradford, a righty, from his bullpen, forcing Hargrove's next move. Not wanting to leave Leon in to face Bradford, Hargrove sent the best left-handed batter on his bench Ryan McGuire to pinch hit for his pinch hitter.

"It was one of those things where their moves dictated what we did, and ours dictated what they did," Hargrove said.

McGuire may be the Orioles' best left-handed hitter off the bench, but his offensive numbers (2-for-21) speak volumes about the lack of talent on Baltimore's bench.

Thus, when Bradford got McGuire to ground into an inning-ending 6-3 double play, it did not come as a complete shock to the crowd of 33,366 at Camden Yards. Orioles pinch hitters are now 5-for-36 ( .139) with one RBI for the season, astoundingly poor numbers. McGuire is 0-for-8.

McGuire's at-bat might have been just one of many in last night's game, but it was important because in a 1-0 pitchers' duel, every scoring opportunity for Baltimore was magnified.

The Orioles simply could not push a run across, whether against Oakland starter Tim Hudson (who improved to 6-0 with a 2.06 ERA lifetime against Baltimore) or three Oakland relievers, Closer Billy Koch earned his 22nd save.

Last night's loss, the Orioles' second in a row since the All-Star break, spoiled a strong performance by right-hander Jason Johnson. It also marked yet another impressive victory by an Oakland team that has turned its season around in the last two months.

When the Orioles visited Oakland in late May, the A's were in disarray. With the club last in the American League West, general manager Billy Beane shook up his roster, sending three key players to the minor leagues and trading Jeremy Giambi to Philadelphia.

Those moves figured to light a fire under a faltering ballclub, but the A's knew the only way they would get back in the pennant race would be through their potentially dominating starting pitchers.

At the time, left-hander Mark Mulder was still recovering from a sore left forearm and Hudson was mired in a four-game losing streak. Since then, the two are a combined 12-2 and have helped guide the A's back into contention.

"You look at the starting pitchers they can run out there against you that's a fairly formidable pitching staff," Hargrove said. "They certainly are not chopped liver."

Hudson, who turns 27 tomorrow, retired the side just once in the first inning. And he gave up leadoff singles in five of six innings between the third and eighth. But Hudson (7-7) showed his mettle by pitching out of several jams, getting a key groundout seemingly every time he needed one.

The Orioles had runners on second and third with no outs in the third but failed to score against Hudson, who ultimately got Tony Batista to ground into a forceout to end the inning.

Hudson perhaps saved his best for last, though, escaping a tenuous jam in the seventh. With Mike Bordick on third and only one out, Jerry Hairston rapped a bouncer to a drawn-in infield. Second baseman Mark Ellis fired home to nab Bordick easily, and though Hairston eventually wound up on third, he was stuck there after Melvin Mora flied out to end the inning.

"Their big pitchers are really showing why they're considered the best in the league," Bordick said. "When a pitcher gets into a jam, the good pitchers find a way to get out of it. We really had the heat on and, boy, he made some great pitches and got the ground balls when he needed to."

Like his counterpart, Johnson pitched his way out of several jams, but not until after the A's had scored their run in the top of the first. Ellis, who had walked four times Thursday night, led off with a double to left, went to third on a flyout and scored on Miguel Tejada's single up the middle.

Johnson (3-6) was highly effective after that, scattering four more hits and four walks before departing after the seventh. He allowed just one run for the fifth time in 11 starts this season but fell to 2-2 with one no-decision in those outings.

"It's a funny game, huh? That's the way it goes sometimes," Johnson said. "I'll take the good with the bad. I'm sure when the second half starts getting [more] under way, we'll start winning games."

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