Bullpen issues sink O's in loss to Tribe

O's find no joy in see-saw battle

CLEVELAND -- Jim Johnson was visibly frustrated following another blown opportunity Friday.

And who could blame him?

Johnson has struggled since moving to the closer role and after his team battled back twice, he couldn't escape in the ninth inning as the Orioles lost for the ninth straight game, 9-8, on Saturday at Progressive Field.

"If there's a way to give up a run, I'll find it," Johnson said. "That's the deflating part, battling back not once, but twice and getting nothing to show for it."

But Johnson hasn't been the only reliever that has struggled lately.

Coming into Saturday's game, the O's bullpen had the third worst ERA in the Majors and has been especially bad on the current road trip.

In five games on the trip, Baltimore relievers have given up a run for just about every inning they've pitched. But even though they gave up five runs on Saturday, the loss can't be placed squarely on their shoulders.

The 'pen was forced to work overtime because starter Jason Berken couldn't get out of a four-run fourth inning.

"It throws your game plan out of kilter when your starter doesn't go long," manager Dave Trembley said. "It's an awful lot to ask to get 15 outs of your bullpen. That's very difficult to do."

But the four-run deficit would quickly be erased by a big fifth inning for the Orioles.

Robert Andino, who was starting in place of a sick Cesar Izturis, led off the inning with his second homer of the season. Brian Roberts then singled and, one batter later, Matt Wieters doubled to score Roberts and cut the Indians' lead to two. After Nick Markakis grounded out and Melvin Mora walked, Luke Scott hit a three-run homer to give the O's a 5-4 lead.

Michael Aubrey padded that lead to 6-4 with a solo homer in the sixth.

But just when it appeared as if the Orioles were about to break their losing streak, the problematic bullpen gave away the victory.

After two solid innings by Baltimore relievers, Trembley brought in Sean Henn to protect the team's two-run lead in the seventh. That lead would evaporate quickly.

Henn walked Michael Brantley and then allowed a double to Asdrubal Cabrera. With runners on second and third, he then gave up a double to Luis Valbuena to tie the game at 6. Trembley had seen enough and took Henn out of the game after he was unable to record an out.

"Henn looked a little tentative," Trembley said. "It's set up there for him with all those lefties coming up in succession, but it didn't happen."

Chris Ray replaced Henn, but didn't fare much better.

The first batter he faced, Shin-Soo Choo, singled to drive in Valbuena and give the Indians a 7-6 lead. After a Jhonny Peralta double and an intentional walk to Travis Hafner, the bases were loaded for Andy Marte, who hit a sacrifice fly to left field to extend the lead to 8-6.

But the Orioles would rally back in the ninth when the Indians bullpen had a malfunction of its own.

Cleveland's closer, Kerry Wood, allowed the the Orioles to load the bases with no outs and their best hitter, Markakis, coming up. He hit a sacrifice fly to center to score Roberts and cut the deficit to one. Then Melvin Mora hit a sacrifice fly to left to score Jeff Fiorentino, who had come in to pinch-hit for Lou Montanez, to tie the game at 8. That's all the Orioles would get.

"You'd probably trade one of those sacrifice flies for a hit," Trembley said. "But you have to give credit to our guys for battling back."

Johnson then came on in the bottom half of the inning. He has not done well in the closer role since taking over for George Sherrill in August. He's blown six saves, three of which have come in his past nine appearances.

But Trembley had already used five of his relievers and Johnson was going on more than three days' rest following a blown save on Tuesday. Trembley said Johnson was his best option.

He thought Johnson could go at least two innings, but unfortunately for the O's he wouldn't he wouldn't get a chance to go that long. Johnson allowed a single to Valbuena, who then moved onto second on a groundout. Then Peralta hit the game-winning single to center field to end the game.

"I'm in a funk right now," Johnson said. "He beat me on my best pitch."

Matt O'Donnell is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.