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Orioles Get to Enjoy Last Laugh

Times Staff Writer

Angel fans couldn’t suppress a few chuckles Wednesday when a third-inning foul ball ricocheted off the stands and smacked the Baltimore Orioles’ hard-charging outfielder Larry Bigbie on the side of the head.

Yet, the real laugher came in the fourth, when the Angels committed two comically bad plays on a rundown and Baltimore scored an unearned run to boost what would eventually become a five-run cushion by the end of the inning.

The Angels staged another spirited comeback one night after rallying from a four-run deficit to defeat the Orioles, drawing to within a run on two occasions before falling short during a 7-6 loss in front of a season-low 24,000 at Edison Field.

Pinch-hitter Shawn Wooten brought the small but energetic gathering to its feet in the ninth when his one-out bloop single to center drove in David Eckstein.

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But Tim Salmon grounded into a game-ending double play, and suddenly it was the Angels, and not the dreadful Orioles, who were self-imploding.

“What we need is to pressure clubs with our style of offense, and it’s tough to do that when you’re behind three, four or five runs early,” Angel Manager Mike Scioscia said.

Angel reliever Francisco Rodriguez, entrusted to keep a one-run deficit intact, also contributed to the defeat by giving up two runs in the eighth to help the Orioles get their first victory this season against a 2002 playoff team.

Not even Troy Glaus’ team-leading 10th home run, a solo shot in the eighth, could comfort the Angels (22-22), who squandered an opportunity to clinch a victory in their third consecutive series and move two games over .500 for the first time since mid-April.

The nadir came in the fourth after Tony Batista had scored Jeff Conine with a double to right-center field and taken third base on the throw home. Bigbie, who was not injured when the foul ball glanced off his head, followed with a routine grounder to Glaus at third.

Glaus fielded the ball cleanly and threw home to catcher Bengie Molina, and the Angels appeared to have caught Batista, who broke for home on the grounder, in a rundown.

But Molina’s throw back to Glaus glanced off his glove and was caught by a startled Eckstein, who was backing up Glaus at third. Eckstein’s quick throw home sailed over pitcher Aaron Sele’s head, allowing Batista to score and Bigbie to take third.

“We’re going to struggle when we can’t support guys by making plays in the field,” Scioscia said. “We didn’t make a play we should have made and it cost us a couple of runs.”

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Bigbie scored on Deivi Cruz’s sacrifice fly to shallow center, giving Baltimore a 5-0 lead. That was all the damage the Orioles could muster against Sele, who still registered a quality start by pitching six innings and giving up only three earned runs.

The Angels chipped away at the deficit in workmanlike fashion, scoring two runs in the fifth and one each in the fourth, sixth, eighth and ninth innings.

Salmon put the Angels on the scoreboard in the fourth when he walked and came home on Garret Anderson’s double to right. The run was the 889th for Salmon in his career, moving him into a tie with Brian Downing for first place on the Angels’ all-time list.

Salmon brought the Angels to within 5-3 in the fifth when he stroked a two-out, two-run double just out of the reach of a diving Bigbie in left field.

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Jeff DaVanon, who tied a career high with three hits, made it 5-4 in the sixth with a single to right-center that scored Scott Spiezio.

But Rodriguez couldn’t keep the Orioles within striking distance after giving up consecutive hits to open the eighth. He struck out Conine and intentionally walked Jay Gibbons to load the bases for Batista, who lined a two-run single to left that increased Baltimore’s lead to 7-4.

Rodriguez, who recently lost his spot as Troy Percival’s setup man, has given up five earned runs in his last six innings.

“He’s not off by much,” Scioscia said of Rodriguez. “He’s still making some good pitches.”

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