- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

CLEVELAND With a brutal stretch of games fast approaching, the Baltimore Orioles embarked on a potentially crucial week of play last night.
This wasn't how they wanted to kick things off.
Matt Lawton capped a furious rally by launching a two-run homer off rookie closer Jorge Julio with two outs in the ninth, catapulting the Cleveland Indians to a stunning 6-5 victory at Jacobs Field.
Julio, who entered with a three-run lead and retired the first two batters of the ninth, blew his second straight save via a game-winning home run, though third baseman Tony Batista's two-out error meant all four Cleveland runs were unearned.
Julio (2-2) appeared to be on his way to his eighth save, but Batista made a low throw to first on Jolbert Cabrera's hard grounder with two outs. Omar Vizquel then doubled to right-center, Rickey Gutierrez singled to right and Lawton crushed Julio's 2-2 pitch into the visitor's bullpen in right field to win the game.
The game was the first in a six-game stretch in which the Orioles (18-20) face slumping Cleveland and Tampa Bay.
At first glance the coming week may not appear to be all that important, but considering who looms next on the Orioles' schedule, a couple of unsuccessful series against the Indians and Devil Rays could place them in a deep hole.
Beginning next Tuesday, the Orioles play 19 straight games against the Seattle Mariners, Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers easily their toughest stretch to date.
With that in mind, last night's series-opening loss was particularly demoralizing.
Scott Erickson's strong pitching performance on an unseasonably cold and windy night was reason for Baltimore to be encouraged, especially after the veteran right-hander left his previous start in the third inning with a strained right groin.
Given an extra day off following his shortest start in three years, Erickson showed no signs of lingering problems, allowing two runs and seven hits in six innings.
Erickson was twice aided by his defense to help him get out of trouble. After Vizquel homered to lead off the third, Erickson gave up a double to Lawton and what appeared to be a run-scoring single to Jim Thome. But left fielder Melvin Mora fired a perfect throw to the plate on the fly, and Geronimo Gil applied the tag on a non-sliding Lawton.
Erickson again got into trouble in the sixth, loading the bases with no outs. But former Oriole Brady Anderson grounded into a 6-4-3 double play (scoring one run) and Einar Diaz grounded out to third to end the inning and Erickson's night.
The Orioles fared considerably better against Cleveland's Danys Baez last night than they did in last week's 6-2 loss to the right-hander at Camden Yards. Taking full advantage of Baez's wildness (five walks in six innings), Baltimore took an early 4-0 lead and gave Erickson some margin for error.
Batista accounted for a good portion of the damage on his own. The Baltimore third baseman drilled a liner off the top of the left-field fence in the second inning, missing his 10th home run of the season by inches. One inning later, Batista cleared the same fence with plenty of room to spare, crushing Baez's first pitch to put the Orioles ahead by four runs.
Ten home runs on May 14 might not seem all that prodigious a feat, but compared with last season, double digits in homers constitutes big news. No Baltimore player hit more than 15 in 2001, and the first to reach double digits (outfielder Jay Gibbons) did not do so until July 4.
Truth be told, the Orioles' supposedly powerless lineup has produced beyond expectations thus far. Entering last night's game, they had hit 37 homers on the season the same total as the offensively loaded Texas Rangers and one more than both the Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs.
Batista had some help against the Indians last night, though his teammates did squander a few chances to pad their lead. Jay Gibbons scored Baltimore's first run of the night on Marty Cordova's sacrifice fly. Batista then scored on a groundout by Gil, and Mike Bordick (who drew three walks) made it 3-0 on Jerry Hairston's single up the middle.
The Orioles continued to put pressure on Baez and relievers Ricardo Rincon and David Riske, but they could not score again until the ninth.
Baltimore stranded two runners in the fourth, one in the fifth, one in the sixth and three the eighth. The failed rally in the eighth was particularly troubling because the Orioles loaded the bases with one out against Riske only to watch as Hairston struck out looking and Mora grounded weakly to third.
Baltimore's wasted opportunities came back to haunt them, given Julio's disastrous ninth.


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