O's bullpen can't hold lead in finale

O's bullpen can't hold lead in finale

TORONTO -- Try as he might, Jeremy Guthrie couldn't keep his final start before the All-Star break from turning into a telling microcosm. Baltimore's Opening Day starter, who extended his league-leading total in quality starts on Thursday, watched Toronto scored twice in the eighth inning and twice more in the ninth to steal a 6-5 win over the Orioles.

Guthrie, who is tied with Kansas City's Zack Greinke in quality starts, has gotten eight no-decisions and watched Baltimore go 7-7 when he throws at least six innings and allows three earned runs or less. Guthrie has worked at least seven innings in nine of his 20 starts and has given up three runs or fewer 15 times, but will go into the break with a losing record.

"Hopefully, it shows consistency," Guthrie said of his 14 quality starts. "You have to be consistent to be there. Thats my goal, and I think that's every pitcher's goal -- every five days, log at least six, seven or eight innings. Give your team a chance to win, and that's what that stat denotes. You should be in the ballgame with a chance to win."

"He's been doing a good job," added closer George Sherrill of Guthrie, Baltimore's staff ace. "I think any of them that you lose in the ninth are tough, but he did do a good job and got us deep in the game. We blew it."

The game appeared to be well in hand when Guthrie left after seven innings, but setup man Jim Johnson gave up two hits and two runs in the eighth. And southpaw closer Sherrill succumbed to the same fate, allowing the tying run to score on a sacrifice fly and the winning run to cross the plate on left fielder Adam Lind's third hit of the game.

Sherrill, Baltimore's lone All-Star representative, has six blown saves this season and four in his last 11 appearances. The left-hander said that he felt out of sorts on Thursday, attributing the rust to making just two appearances in the past nine days.

"It's just a matter of pitching a lot and then all of a sudden you have four or five days off," said Sherrill, who has made 42 appearances and is just a few innings shy of matching his career high. "Then you throw once and you have [three] days off. It gets tough to find a rhythm. I guess I'll have to do a little more work when I have a few days off."

Guthrie retired the first seven batters Thursday, and then he got the ninth to hit into a double play. Both runs that he allowed came on groundouts, and the right-hander retired six of the last seven batters he faced. Guthrie finished his night after seven innings and handed the ball over to Johnson and Sherrill, whom have been manager Dave Trembley's late-inning security blanket.

"We had it set up with the right guys in the right spots," he said. "I don't think there's any room for discussion there at all."

Johnson, though, ran into trouble by allowing a leadoff single and a follow-up double to Lind. The right-handed rookie settled down to coax two groundouts, both of which scored a run. Johnson escaped with the lead intact, but has allowed six earned runs in his last three appearances, as he has seen his ERA rise by almost a full run (from 1.14 to 2.13).

"I gave them back the momentum, and you can't do that late in the game," said Johnson, a former starter who has found Major League success as a late reliever. "Especially when they're at home. We wasted a good outing by Jeremy. It kind of stinks, but we've got to forget about it and go into Boston and start playing a little bit better."

"He had a rough patch against these guys," added Trembley, speaking of Johnson's last two outings. "And this is probably the first time all year a team has kind of solved him a little bit. But against everybody else, he's been pretty lights-out."

Baltimore's offense made sure Guthrie would work with a lead, cementing its first advantage just four batters into the game. Nick Markakis doubled off former Oriole John Parrish in the first inning and scored on a single by Aubrey Huff. The Orioles (44-46) scored again on back-to-back doubles in the second and took a 3-0 lead on a groundout to second base.

Toronto (45-47) got its first run in the fourth inning, and it took some small ball and a mistake to do it. Leadoff man Joe Inglett singled, moved to second on a bunt and to third on a passed ball before scoring on an Alex Rios grounder. The Blue Jays came back for one more run in the sixth inning, courtesy of a leadoff double by Lind and two grounders.

"I felt like I worked ahead of the guys a little bit better than I have in the last couple games," said Guthrie, evaluating his performance. "I got some good ground balls. It was nice to see a lot of ground balls."

The Orioles have lost five straight games to tie their longest skid of the season, and all five of them have come by two runs or fewer. Baltimore is now 17-17 in one-run games and is two games under .500 for the first time since June 4, but Trembley reiterated that he's proud of the way his team has competed from Day 1 of the regular season.

"We've played 90 games now and 51 of them have been decided by two runs or fewer," he said. "We play competitive baseball. Sometimes it works out for you and sometimes it doesn't. It's not because of lack of effort. To be honest with you, I really don't worry about psychological carryover with these guys. They've shown their mettle and proven they're mentally tough."

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