Orioles undone by Mariners

Orioles undone by Mariners

SEATTLE -- With his whisper-quiet voice and youthful look, Chris Ray hardly looked tough enough to deal with the horde of reporters who surrounded him after he was partially responsible for the Orioles' 3-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners on Saturday night.

Yet, the 23-year-old Ray is part of Generation Y, those breed of kids that have no problem telling every embarrassing detail of their life in reality shows. This season is Ray's "Real World." The rookie reliever is being thrown into grown-man situations, with the playoff hopes of a winning-starved organization at stake.

After the loss, the baby-faced Ray faced the camera and explained how he allowed the Mariners to score the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning. He could be the Orioles' closer of the future. There is no guarantee that impending free agent B.J. Ryan is going to re-sign and executive vice president Jim Beattie said Ryan's representatives have tabled talks until the end of the season.

So Ray could be taking on a new role in this reality series next season. But before he addressed the media after the Orioles wasted a chance to tie the Boston Red Sox for first place in the American League East, Ray was encouraged by relievers Jason Grimsley and Ryan, while pitching coach Ray Miller told him to stay positive despite his first Major League loss.

The Orioles are not being shy with their third-round pick from 2003. Manager Lee Mazzilli is throwing him into a series of tense situations, and like those "Survivor" viewers, Orioles fans are watching every minute, hoping Ray makes it to the next level. Saturday was a setback.

"I thought I made good pitches," he said. "I do everything I do when I usually go out there and they got the best of me tonight."

Ray entered the game in the eighth inning with the potential go-ahead run, Ichiro Suzuki, at second base with two out. He struck out Richie Sexson to end the threat on a wicked slider.

In the bottom of the ninth, Ray jumped ahead of Adrian Beltre 1-2 before the veteran third baseman worked the count full and cued a single to right field. Willie Bloomquist tried laying down a sacrifice bunt but looked bad in two attempts. Finally, his swinging bunt trickled down the third-base line line, slowing in the thick grass. Ray scooped it up and instinctively fired to first base, the ball sailing about eight feet to the left of first baseman Rafael Palmeiro and bouncing into the seats.

It was later ruled a single and a throwing error and runners were at second and third with no out. Ray jumped ahead of rookie Mike Morse 0-2, but Morse lined a single to right for the winner.

"Probably I should have held onto that ball but I tried to make a play at first and made a bad throw," Ray said of the play on Bloomquist. "All you can do it go out there and keep doing what you've been doing and if they hit the ball, they hit the ball. If I didn't have bad things happen to me before, I would have been up here a long time ago."

Ray's presence in such a tight situation is a testament to Mazzilli's lack of trust in the rest of the bullpen. Steve Kline hasn't pitched since July 8; Jorge Julio has a 10.45 ERA in his past 13 games and Grimsley has just come off the DL after being out the past nine months. It appears as long as Ray keeps improving and doesn't get frazzled in the clutch, he will get more opportunities to win -- or lose -- games.

"I think maybe he was going too fast," Mazzilli said. "I just told him to hang in there. That's part of a reliever's life. You go through that sometimes. This may make him better."

The ninth inning overshadowed a splendid pitchers' duel between Bruce Chen and Jamie Moyer, similar soft-throwing but crafty left-handers. Chen was touched for two runs in the first four batters but allowed just three hits after the first inning and pitched into the eighth.

Moyer's performance was equally as impressive but also infuriating for an Orioles offense that had its chances. He allowed two runs and 10 hits in eight innings, lowering his lifetime ERA against Baltimore to 3.02. But the Orioles had runners on base in all but one inning and were 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

They scored twice in the fourth inning on a sacrifice fly by B.J. Surhoff to cash in Miguel Tejada and a bouncer to second by Larry Bigbie that scored Palmeiro. The 3,000-hit man had two more to raise his career total to 3,003.

Yet the Orioles had a runner at second base and less than two out in the fifth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings and that runner never reached third.

One of the main culprits was third baseman Melvin Mora, who wasted four chances with runners in scoring position, including the seventh when he struck out looking on a Moyer backdoor slider.

"We had a pretty good chance to win the game," Mora said. "This guy [Moyer] don't joke around. He just pitches. He just reads your mind, whatever you do. That's why he's won 200 games."

Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.