- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

CLEVELAND The Baltimore Orioles' bullpen, the franchise's unquestioned biggest strength for the better part of a month and a half, has suddenly turned into its Achilles' heel.
First it was rookie closer Jorge Julio blowing back-to-back save chances on game-winning homers in the bottom of the ninth. Last night it was rookie setup man Rick Bauer, who allowed two runs to score in a disastrous eighth inning and sent the Orioles to a 3-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians.
Baltimore has now lost five of its last six, and in each of those games the bullpen has been scored upon.
This latest collapse came in the eighth inning of a tie ballgame. The right-handed Bauer, who held a 1.93 ERA in his first 14 appearances, was allowed to start the inning even though three of the four Indians due up were left-handed hitters. Left-hander B.J. Ryan had already been used earlier, and lefty Buddy Groom had appeared briefly the night before, so the Bauer was on his own.
It didn't work. Matt Lawton and Jim Thome each singled. Orioles catcher Geronimo Gil allowed a passed ball on a low and outside pitch from Bauer. Ellis Burks walked on four straight pitches. Russell Branyan drove in the first run with a sacrifice fly. And then Bauer (1-1) capped things off with a wild pitch that allowed Thome to score an insurance run.
The late collapse spoiled an effective, if not strong start by Orioles rookie Rodrigo Lopez. Seeking to become the first pitcher to win the first six starts in his rookie season, Lopez was the beneficiary of outstanding defense behind him. If only he could apply that same designation on himself.
The only run the Indians managed to score off the 26-year-old right-hander came in the first inning via his error. Omar Vizquel led off with a double, then moved to third on a groundout.
Lopez was on his way to getting out of the jam when he got Lawton to ground out to a drawn-in infield, but with two outs he inexplicably tried to pick a dancing Vizquel off third base and wound up firing the ball over Tony Batista's head. Vizquel coasted home with the game's first run, and Lopez was charged with an error.
Lopez's wildness continued all night he walked five in 5 ⅔ innings but every time he got in trouble, it seemed like one of his teammates was bailing him out with a great play in the field.
When Cleveland put two on with one out in the second, Mike Bordick went deep into the hole at shortstop to start a 6-4-3 double play. When Vizquel led off the third with a smash to the right side, second baseman Jerry Hairston took a diving stab in shallow right field and made the throw to first off his back. And when Vizquel led off the fifth with a single, Bordick, Hairston and Jeff Conine combined on another 6-4-3 double play.
But all the baserunners took their toll on Lopez, who was sitting on 107 pitches (56 strikes) following a walk to Bruce Aven with two outs in the fifth. And with left-handed-hitting Brady Anderson coming to the plate, Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove elected to pull his starter in favor of Ryan.
Indians manager Charlie Manuel countered by sending right-handed-hitting Jolbert Cabrera in to pinch-hit for Anderson (Cabrera was batting just .094 for the season but was 3-for-9 against lefties). No matter Ryan got Cabrera to fly out to center field to end the inning and keep Lopez from his first loss of the season.
Like his counterpart, Cleveland starter Bartolo Colon (5-3) benefited from a pair of inning-ending double plays (in the first and third). He also caught a break when Batista made an ill-advised stolen base attempt in the fifth and was easily gunned down. The Orioles would have loaded the bases otherwise, but failed to push across any runs.
They finally broke through against Colon in the sixth, when Chris Singleton launched his first homer in a Baltimore uniform. After his horribly slow start to the season, the center fielder has 11 hits in his last 26 at-bats (a .423 average).
But that was all the Orioles could muster against Colon and closer Bob Wickman, who pitched the ninth and recorded his eighth save.

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