- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2002

BALTIMORE The game, the series sweep and the .500 record were theirs. The Baltimore Orioles had this one locked up, and needed only three more outs to make victory over the Chicago White Sox official.
What happened next cannot be described in simple terms, other than to say that everything that could possibly go wrong in a span of five minutes did.
And by the time they trudged off the field at Camden Yards, the Orioles knew only that they had handed an 8-7 win to the White Sox and blown their fifth chance in two months to reach the .500-mark. Worst of all, they didn't know for sure who was to blame.
Chris Singleton was upset at himself for committing two errors on the game-deciding play in the ninth inning. Jerry Hairston was upset at himself for not covering second base on said play and preventing one of those errors. Luis Lopez was upset at a questionable call by umpire Doug Eddings. Manager Mike Hargrove was frustrated that Saturday night's 14-inning marathon left him without his regular closer. Buddy Groom was upset at himself for not having the quick wits to set up a possible game-ending triple play.
And somewhere, Mike Bordick was probably cursing at himself for being on the disabled list in the first place, knowing that his presence in the field might have salvaged everything.
The insanity all took place in the top of the ninth inning, with Baltimore clinging to a 7-6 lead thanks to four home runs (two by first baseman Jay Gibbons).
With rookie closer Jorge Julio unavailable for more than a couple of batters after throwing three innings the previous two nights, Hargrove began the ninth with set-up man Willis Roberts on the mound. Roberts, who pitched a perfect eighth, gave up a leadoff single to Tony Graffanino, then got Mark Johnson to rap a hard bunt back to the mound.
Roberts wheeled and fired to second, hoping to get the lead runner. The throw was a bit wide, pulling Lopez to his right, but the shortstop appeared to keep his foot on the base long enough. Eddings, the second base umpire, called everyone safe.
"I was on it," said Lopez, who joined the Orioles on July 12 and made his first start at shortstop while Bordick recovers from a fractured kneecap. "I made that play. He was out."
With the tying run now on second and Kenny Lofton coming to the plate, Hargrove summoned Groom who had allowed two hits in his last 13 appearances from the bullpen to close out the game.
Lofton popped up his sacrifice bunt attempt, and Groom instinctively raced toward the third-base line to make the catch. It was the right play, but afterward, the veteran left-hander wished he had the foresight to pull off a cunning move.
"If I let the ball drop, it might be a triple play," Groom said. "It's a play we work on, but if you're not thinking about it ahead of time and I wasn't it's hard to execute."
Ray Durham followed with a hard base hit up the middle, and center fielder Singleton charged hard hoping to have a play at the plate. Singleton, though, fumbled the ball as he tried to transfer from his glove to his throwing hand, which he cut earlier as he slid into second base.
"You don't focus on the injury when you play," Singleton said. "It was just a bad exchange."
Graffanino scored the tying run with ease, but confusion between Hairston and Lopez caused second base to be uncovered, and Durham immediately took off from first.
"When I looked up, there was nobody on second base," Singleton said. "The runner was looking at me to see what I was going to do, and he realized there was nobody there. It's kind of an awkward situation to be in."
Gibbons, the first baseman, moved toward the center of the infield to cut off Singleton's throw to the plate, but after seeing the play develop turned and ran toward second base. Singleton threw a bit high, and Gibbons couldn't make the running catch. The ball trickled back toward the mound and Johnson scored all the way from first with the eventual game-winning run.
There were plenty of problems on the play, but chief among them was the fact that neither Lopez nor Hairston covered second. Lopez, as he is accustomed to on such plays, lined himself up to be the cut-off man on a throw to third. Hairston, as he is accustomed, went to cover first in case of a rundown.
"I should have been more heads-up. I'll take the responsibility," Hairston said. "Early in the game, it's my job to cover first base. In hindsight, just forget about the guy on first."
Having been with the club just over a week, Lopez wasn't exactly sure what the Orioles' strategy is on such a play.
"Somebody should be there," he said. "It depends how we play. I just got here, but I've got to be lined up with third base. It was one of those strange things."
Hargrove said it was Hairston's responsibility to cover second base, but "Jerry played a great game today. I'm not going to come down on Jerry for not covering second base in the ninth inning. It was a real confusing set of circumstances."
And one that Bordick's presence might have helped avert.
"People don't realize the things that Bordy brings to the table," Hairston said of his middle-infield counterpart, who has committed one error this year. "Defensively, there's none better. We have that understanding."
Notes
One night after he was unable to play from a pregame shot gone bad, Gibbons was back in the lineup yesterday and crushed his 17th and 18th homers. It was the third two-homer game of his career, all three coming this month.
Gibbons still has a painful suture in his right wrist from last year's hamate bone operation. He took a cortisone shot Saturday, but a secondary shot of a numbing agent leaked into a nerve and left Gibbons unable to feel two fingers in his hand. Within a few hours, he felt fine.
Lost among the late-inning chaos was an uncharacteristically poor pitching performance from Scott Erickson. Erickson lasted just five innings, giving up five runs, seven hits, four walks and two homers.


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