- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2003

BALTIMORE — They were swept at home by the hapless Detroit Tigers. They lost six straight while their manager was in Texas attending his mother’s funeral. Yesterday, though, the Baltimore Orioles may have reached a new low in what already has been a troubling season.

An imploding bullpen, some lackadaisical play in the field and impatience at the plate all contributed to the Orioles’ 9-8 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays before 34,739 at Camden Yards.

Baltimore, which fell to a season-low five games under .500, lost a game in which it held a lead after seven innings for the first time in 14 tries, and afterward, the frustration level boiled over.

Designated hitter David Segui got into a heated clubhouse exchange with Hall-of-Famer and Orioles broadcaster Jim Palmer in front of dozens of players and media members. The argument first centered around Segui’s fifth-inning grounder up the middle that was scored an error instead of a hit and then morphed into a diatribe by Segui over Palmer’s penchant for offering unsolicited coaching advice.

Segui declined to comment to reporters later; Palmer left the ballpark immediately following the exchange.

The Segui-Palmer encounter wasn’t the day’s only unusual event. The Orioles are just as mystified over their bullpen’s sudden inability to record key outs.

Buddy Groom and Jorge Julio, once thought of as the two most reliable players on Baltimore’s roster, combined to allow five runs over the game’s final two innings. Groom has given up nine runs in his last three innings of work and has seen his ERA balloon to 6.23; Julio (0-2) was tagged for five hits in 1⅓ innings yesterday and now has a 6.43 career ERA against Tampa Bay.

“When things are going like that, you’ve just got to work through it,” said Groom, who retired just one of four batters he faced yesterday. “Any time you score runs like we did today, you expect to win. As a pen, we should come in and do our job. Things just didn’t go our way today.”

The bullpen wasn’t totally to blame for this loss, though. Third baseman Tony Batista misplayed a popup in the eighth to allow the tying run to score and set in motion the late collapse.

The Devil Rays’ rally began with Aubrey Huff’s one-out triple to right-center that should have been ruled a home run. Huff’s hit landed beyond the fence on the roof of what’s known as the “groundskeepers’ shed” and then bounced back into play. Camden Yards ground rules state that such a hit is considered a home run, but second base umpire Sam Holbrook ruled the ball still in play.

Combustible Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella argued vehemently to no avail, but in the end, he got redemption. Travis Lee followed with a pop up behind third base, and a twisting Batista could not make the catch. Lee was awarded a single on the play, and Huff scored to make it 5-5.

“I was a little confused,” Batista said. “I just didn’t see the ball very well, that’s why I missed it.”

After striking out Toby Hall, Groom walked Jared Sandberg, prompting manager Mike Hargrove to summon Julio from the bullpen. Pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson wasted no time foiling the Orioles’ strategy — he drilled Julio’s first pitch for a two-run double.

Baltimore managed to score two runs of its own in the eighth on a Geronimo Gil single and a Larry Bigbie sacrifice fly, but the Devil Rays came right back in the ninth with three straight hits off Julio to take the lead for good.

Melvin Mora brought the Orioles back within a run when he led off the ninth with a solo homer, but Tampa Bay’s Lance Carter (4-1) closed out the game by retiring Segui, Jeff Conine and Jay Gibbons on a total of four pitches.

Baltimore’s bullpen woes were of far more concern to Hargrove, though, than his hitters’ overanxious approach at the plate.

“The way we pitched in the eighth and the ninth, we’ve pitched better than that [in the past],” Hargrove said. “I think that’s about as nicely as I can say it.”

Notes — Following the game, the Orioles optioned infielder Jose Leon to Class AAA Ottawa. The club did not announce a corresponding move, but outfielder B.J. Surhoff (on the 15-day disabled list with a strained hamstring) is expected to be reinstated when he becomes eligible today. …

Devil Rays hitting coach Lee Elia was ejected by plate umpire Angel Hernandez in the fourth inning for arguing balls and strikes. …

The Orioles have lost three of four series to Tampa Bay this year. The two AL East rivals meet twice more in August.

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