- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2003

BALTIMORE — Even with the Pat Hentgen of old, the Baltimore Orioles keep finding new ways to lose.

The Orioles wasted an outstanding pitching performance by Hentgen and lost to the Oakland Athletics 2-0 in 12 innings for Baltimore’s ninth-straight defeat.

Oakland ended the shutout when Miguel Tejada hit a squibbler down the third-base line and legged out a single. Orioles reliever Jorge Julio walked Scott Hatteberg, and Ramon Hernandez moved the runners over on a weak ground ball to third.

Robert Crosby walked in his second major league plate appearance, and Mark Ellis hit a fly ball to left deep enough for Tejada to score to give the A’s the lead. Former Oriole Chris Singleton followed with a single to right, scoring Hatteberg for the second run. Oakland’s Keith Foulke struck out the side in the 12th for the save.

The loss only partially obscured the return to form of Hentgen, the former Cy Young Award winner who has been plagued by injuries since signing with Baltimore in December 2000, including ligament replacement surgery on his right elbow. Of late, he has looked liked the pitcher who won 20 games with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1996. He took a 4-2 record and a 3.47 ERA in his previous nine starts into last night’s game against the Athletics.

And the sparse crowd of 19,515 at Camden Yards got to see Hentgen’s most inspired pitching performance this season. The 34-year-old right-hander shut out the American League West division leading A’s over eight innings, holding them to just three hits.

“Our pitchers gave us a chance to win,” Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. “We just didn’t take advantage of it.”

Unfortunately for Hentgen, the Orioles were handcuffed by the equally effective Barry Zito, who also shut out the Baltimore hitters for eight innings.

“We played hard,” Hentgen said. “It was just a matter of coming across a good pitcher. Zito kept us off balance all night.”

Oakland (83-55) did suffer a loss of sorts. Outfielder Terrence Long was ejected in the eighth inning for arguing a third-strike call, then bumped home plate umpire Marvin Hudson — a move that surely will carry with it a suspension in the midst of a pennant race.

The Orioles (61-76) remained in a tailspin, looking much like the team that ended last season in a 4-32 skid. Baltimore has lost 17 of its last 21 games, and 19 of the 25 games left on its schedule are against Oakland, Seattle, New York and Boston — all teams in playoff contention.

Notes — Hargrove finally had a chance to respond publicly to the trade that sent one of his best hitters, Jeff Conine, to the Florida Marlins late Sunday night for two minor league pitchers.

Hargrove tried to put his best organizational face on the deal in light of losing his cleanup hitter (.290 average, 15 home runs and 80 RBI in 124 games with Baltimore) during the Orioles’ worst stretch of the season.

“Anytime you lose a hitter in the middle of the order like Jeff, you have to pause a little bit,” Hargrove said. “But given the talent we received in return, I think it was a good deal. I think it was good for the organization.”

The Orioles added two more young pitchers to their growing arsenal of potential on the mound, 20-year-old right-handers Denny Bautista and Don Levinski. Bautista is a combined 12-9 with a 3.41 ERA in 25 starts between Class A Jupiter and Class AA Carolina this year. Levinski is 4-11 with a 4.03 ERA in 21 starts at Jupiter after going 12-6 with a 3.02 ERA at Class A Clinton in 2002.

Conine saw most of his playing time at first base, so the Orioles will bring Jay Gibbons in from right field to play first, Hargrove said.

“We’ll give him a day or two of taking ground balls before we put him out there,” Hargrove said. “Gibbons is a good first baseman. He’s not chopped liver.”

The outfield will be a faster unit with Melvin Mora’s return last night after nearly a month on the disabled list because of a bruised right wrist; Tim Raines Jr., who was called up from Ottawa on Aug. 22; Luis Matos; and Larry Bigbie. …

Scott Erickson visited the Orioles clubhouse. The veteran right-hander has missed the entire season after shoulder surgery in March and is not expected back this year — the final one of his five-year contract. His fiancee, Lisa Guerrero, is in Washington preparing for tomorrow night’s New York Jets-Washington Redskins game. She is the new sideline reporter for ABC’s “Monday Night Football” crew.

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