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Loewen stellar, but late slam sinks O's

Loewen stellar, but late slam sinks O's

BALTIMORE -- All of Adam Loewen's hard work disappeared into the distance Thursday night, when Boston's Wily Mo Pena drilled a late grand slam to erase a lead Baltimore had maintained since the first inning. The Orioles asked closer Chris Ray to get a five-out save, but Pena blitzed him before he got a single out in Boston's 5-2 win.

The result was Baltimore's fourth straight loss, and it was also the team's second in two nights that involved a late collapse. The Orioles bypassed their setup arms Thursday to go to Ray, but he wasn't able to hold the lead. Pena's grand slam was the second Ray has allowed this season -- the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez hit the other one.

"We were trying to win that ballgame at all costs, and he was fresh," said Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo. "If he goes in there and gets two outs for us, I feel very good that he can handle that easily."

The Red Sox (14-7) had trailed all night before that shot. They scored once in the sixth inning to make it a one-run game. Ray (2-2) came in with one man on and one out in the eighth and allowed a double to push the tying run to third base. One intentional walk later, Pena drilled the game-changing shot into the Baltimore bullpen.

"You keep him off base and it's a totally different inning," Ray said of Mike Lowell's ground-rule double. "That bad pitch set up having to load the bases, and then you start having to make your pitches. I just missed a few spots on the slider for the ground-rule double, and then I just tried to go inside and didn't go inside enough."

"Well, he had four days off," Perlozzo said of the decision to press his closer into early service. "He was going to need to get into that game at some point in time. We talked about it before the game, and felt that if we needed to win the game [with] a one-inning-plus save, we were going to go for it."

Perlozzo's decision was made easier with the knowledge that setup arms Chad Bradford and Jamie Walker had pitched two nights in a row. Since that was the case, he used Danys Baez for two outs in the seventh inning and then John Parrish for two outs. After that, it was Ray's game the rest of the way -- until the grand slam.

Loewen held Boston to three hits in six innings, but his control problems surfaced in two multi-walk innings. The southpaw walked three straight with two outs in the third, but he got David Ortiz to ground back to the mound. Loewen walked two more in the sixth and wound up stranding two runners in scoring position.

"If I could throw strikes all the time, I would," Loewen said. "It's not like I'm trying to throw it out of the zone."

"Actually, Adam threw pretty well," added Perlozzo. "We're just putting too many people on base. We're walking too many guys, and it puts back in the game a little farther than we want to be. Then we end up paying for it."

While the free passes may have extended innings, none of the players Loewen walked came around to score. That trend has held true in all of his starts this season. Loewen may lead the league with 24 walks, but only two of them have directly turned into runs. Still, Loewen reached a high pitch count (105) and left after six innings.

"I felt comfortable with guys on base. I've been there before, [and] walks aren't concerning me right now," Loewen said of his outing. "I'm doing a good job of making pitches in key situations. It was a tough loss for us today, but this is a team that's going to bounce back even better than we were before."

"When you're a pitcher, you've got to make the pitch when you need to," said Baltimore catcher Ramon Hernandez. "He got in a jam, but he made the pitch when he needed to get out of the jam. He got wild a little bit, but he was around the zone. ... He got ahead of a few guys and got 3-2 a few times, but he made the pitch when he needed to."

That just wasn't enough to beat Boston starter Josh Beckett, who went into Thursday's game with wins in each of his first four starts. Baltimore ended his shutout quickly, though, thanks to some speed work by leadoff hitter Brian Roberts. The second baseman doubled in the first inning, stole third base and scored on a ground ball.

The Orioles (11-11) scored their only other run in the third inning, and Hernandez made it happen. The backstop, who was activated from the disabled list earlier in the day, hit a leadoff double off Beckett and moved to third on a groundout. Beckett (5-0) got another out, but Melvin Mora drilled a double to make it a 2-0 game.

Baltimore spent the rest of the game trying to hang on but fell short in the eventful eighth.

"There's really no panic. It is what it is," Loewen said of the fourth straight loss. "We could just as easily have won four in a row as we could lose it. We feel good about what we've done these last four games. We haven't played bad at all. We really battled our butts off. It's a new day tomorrow, and that's the way we look at it."

"You're going to have bumps in the road," Perlozzo said. "The game's humbling, and you just keep plugging away. What we need to do now is regroup a little bit, go back out and start putting a streak together. Forget this."

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

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