- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 14, 2002

BALTIMORE Ask baseball fans around the country and they probably would tell you they would like to turn the clock back to Tuesday and solve the All-Star Game fiasco before it happened.
Ask the Baltimore Orioles and they probably would tell you they would like to go all the way back to last Sunday.
With a 6-0 loss to the Oakland Athletics last night, their third in a row, the Orioles have lost all memory of their pre-All Star ways. The team that was on the cusp of a .500 record finds itself mired in its first three-game losing streak since mid-May and needing to win today's series finale at Camden Yards to avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of the A's.
Baltimore finished off the first half of the season having scored 30 runs in four games. In their first three games back from the break, they've scored one.
"I don't classify it as a hitting slump," manager Mike Hargrove said. "A slump to me has to last longer than two, three days.
"We'll come out of this, and when we do we'll be all right. We've got to weather it and work hard to get out of it."
Hargrove can make that kind of statement because his team hasn't been dealt any favors the last three nights. This latest funk has come against one of the best pitching trios in baseball: Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito, who are beginning to look a lot like the same 1-2-3 punch that led Oakland to the playoffs the last two seasons.
Mulder started things off Thursday with seven shutout innings in the A's 4-1 win. Hudson duplicated the feat Friday in a 1-0 victory. Last night, it was Zito's turn. The quirky left-hander dominated all evening, finishing with (what else?) seven shutout innings.
Apparently, good things really do come in threes.
Zito (12-3) was last seen throwing all of one-third of an inning for AL manager Joe Torre in the All-Star Game, an abbreviated appearance that in part contributed to the lack of pitchers and eventual tie game.
Last night's outing was 21 times longer, but who's counting? Certainly not Zito, who dominated all evening and held up his end of the three-headed Oakland pitching monster.
"It's kind of weird when you see Mulder and Hudson do that," Zito said. "They always talk about the three of us. What if I go out and give it up? I got the job done, and it was OK."
Zito was more than OK. In seven innings of work, he surrendered all of three singles only one of which left the infield.
Jose Leon beat out a slow roller to third in the second, and Jerry Hairston laid down a successful drag bunt in the third. Only Luis Lopez, making his first appearance with the Orioles since having his contract purchased from Class AAA Rochester on Friday, managed to drive a single to left field in the sixth.
Baltimore did load the bases against Zito in the fifth on two walks and an error. But Melvin Mora's sinking liner up the middle was caught on the run by Oakland center fielder Terrence Long, ending the inning and preserving the shutout.
Like his predecessors the previous two nights, Zito departed after seven innings of work, leaving the rest up to his bullpen. Jim Mecir, the only A's pitcher to give up a run so far in the series, got into trouble once again in the eighth.
Two walks put runners on first and second, and when third baseman Eric Chavez missed the bag trying to catch Tejada's throw, the Orioles found themselves with the bases loaded and one out.
Mecir threw ball one to Marty Cordova, and A's manager Art Howe immediately yanked him in favor of Chad Bradford. The side-arming right-hander needed just one pitch to get out of the inning Cordova grounded into a 6-3 double play, capping a futile night at the plate for Baltimore.
"Some of it is their pitching," Hargrove conceded. "Some of it is we're getting into good counts and swinging at bad pitches trying to make too many things happen."
Despite their two-game losing streak entering the game, the Orioles had to feel good about their chances knowing Travis Driskill was on the mound. The surprising rookie right-hander has turned into a stopper of sorts he was 5-1 when following a Baltimore loss.
But Driskill, who earned his first career victory May 21 at Oakland, struggled through one of his worst starts of the season, allowing five runs in 5⅓ innings.
The big blast came in the fifth, when All-Star shortstop Miguel Tejada crushed a hanging split-finger fastball into the left-field seats for a three-run homer. It was the 13th home run surrendered by Driskill (6-2) in 14 appearances (nine starts), second only to Sidney Ponson (15) on the Orioles' pitching staff, but Driskill was more upset at himself for walking Ramon Hernandez to start the inning.
"Plain and simple, I lost my concentration," Driskill said. "And I got beat because of that."
Ponson was on tap to start today's series finale, but a lingering blister on his middle finger forced the Orioles to push him back one day. Rookie Rodrigo Lopez will be bumped up to face Oakland's Cory Lidle today.


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