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A strong start, but familiar finish

ORIOLES 3, RAYS 2 (11): Jorge Sosa pitches well, then Tampa Bay gets a walkoff loss.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 23, 2002

ORIOLES 3, RAYS 2 (11): Jorge Sosa pitches well, then Tampa Bay gets a walkoff loss.

BALTIMORE -- For the first three hours, Thursday's game was so crisp and so entertaining and so good, you could forget these were the Rays and the Orioles matched up for the 19th time this season. Forget the starting pitchers were struggling rookies Jorge Sosa and John Stephens. Forget the crowd of 21,447 was the smallest in the 11-season history of Camden Yards.

But when it was over, you couldn't forget how it turned out for the Rays, who lost on the final pitch for the second time in three nights and 11th time this season.

This time it was 3-2 to the Orioles in 11 innings, Tony Batista driving in the winning run from second with a ground ball single off Travis Harper.

"We've been doing this a lot," Rays DH Steve Cox said. "We hang in there, we battle back and this and that, but we lose the game and we go home upset."

Until the end, it was a game both teams had reason to be proud of.

"We might be in more of a mood to appreciate it if we'd come out on top," Rays second baseman Brent Abernathy said.

Sosa, throwing as hard as 95 mph, retired his first 11 before a walk and didn't allow a hit until the fifth on the way to an impressive three-hit, two-run performance over seven innings. Stephens, throwing as slow as 59 mph (and often in the low 60s), had a zero on the board until the sixth.

Jeff Conine got the first hit, a homer that put the Orioles ahead in the fifth. Chris Gomez answered with a homer to lead off the sixth. The Orioles went back ahead when Jerry Hairston homered with two outs in the sixth. The Rays tied it in the seventh when Jared Sandberg walked and stole second and Cox singled him in.

Orioles leftfielder Melvin Mora robbed Abernathy of an extra-base hit in the sixth, running nearly to the foul line and making a fully extended diving catch. Rays rookie leftfielder Carl Crawford paid Mora back the next inning, sprinting in to make a diving catch that denied Mora a hit. Batista made a slick grab to start a key double play, with shortstop Mike Bordick surviving a hard slide by Randy Winn, to end the 11th.

Relievers B.J. Ryan and Willis Roberts got the Orioles out of a jam in the seventh. Wilson Alvarez gave the Rays three scoreless innings of relief.

"It would have been a great one to win," Harper said.

The winning rally actually started with out in the 11th when a fan ran on the field and did a brief jig, some robot moves and a moonwalk at second base.

"He needs to go get some dancing lessons," Abernathy said. "I don't know what he was trying to do, but whatever he was doing it wasn't working for him. Now he can work on it in a jail cell."

Hairston reached on an infield single, sliding headfirst to beat a throw from Sandberg, who dived to snare the ball and scrambled to his feet. After Gary Matthews singled to left, the Rays tried to set up Batista to ground into a double play.

"We did exactly what we wanted," catcher John Flaherty said. "We were hoping he'd hit a ground ball to the left side of the infield, and he did. But it found a hole."

After winning Monday, the Rays lost three straight here on essentially the final play. Tuesday they blew a ninth-inning lead and lost on a walkoff home run, Wednesday they had the bases loaded in the ninth with one out and couldn't score, and Thursday the Orioles executed perfectly.

Manager Hal McRae, without much other choice, took solace in how his team keeps battling.

"The ground ball could have been at someone and it could have been a double play and we'd still be playing, so we forced them to beat us," McRae said. "These were exciting games, close games. We could have won them all."

But, as usual, the Rays made some mistakes along the way. The most glaring Thursday came in the middle of a ninth-inning rally.

The Rays had first and second with one out when Cox grounded to first and Conine's throw to start a double play was high and wide of second. But Sandberg, intent on taking out Bordick, didn't realize he was safe and was tagged out after oversliding the base.

"We're experiencing some growing pains, and that's the way it's going to be," McRae said. "You hope when a mistake like that is made we don't repeat it, that we learn from that mistake."

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