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IT'S NO MERCY FOR PERCIVAL BLOWN SAVE BLOWS UP WITH ORIOLES GRAND SLAM IN NINTH BALTIMORE 7, ANGELS 4.

Byline: Gabe Lacques Staff Writer

ANAHEIM - It was setting up so splendidly for the Angels on Thursday night. For once, they didn't fall behind early. Ramon Ortiz gave them a consistent start. They got a modicum of clutch hitting.

And even though Brendan Donnelly gave up his first earned run of the season, the Angels setup man did what he was supposed to do, and that's get the ball to closer Troy Percival in the ninth inning.

That's when everything went haywire.

Entrusted with a one-run lead, Percival suffered his first blown save of the season in spectacular fashion. A walk, a hit-and-run single, a hit batter, and then Brian Roberts' grand slam sent the Angels careening toward an unlikely 7-4 defeat at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles.

If the Angels (22-23) are to get back in the American League West race, these are the teams they need to beat, the sort of games they need to win. Instead, the Orioles (21-25) prevented the Angels from winning three consecutive series for the first time this season and pushed them a season-high 7 1/2 games back of the Seattle Mariners.

For once, it wasn't spotty starting pitching or offensive deficiencies or subpar defense to blame. This time, it was Percival, of all people, suffering through a 32-pitch nightmare in which he retired just one of five batters faced.

The leadoff walk to Gary Matthews Jr. was a bad omen. Things looked gloomier when the former Gramada Hills High product took off for second and Deivi Cruz dropped a perfectly placed hit-and-run single to the right of shortstop David Eckstein, who was vacating the hole to cover second.

No problem. Percival got two strikes on No. 9 hitter Geronimo Gil. Problem: Percival hit Gil on a 2-2 pitch.

That loaded the bases, and Percival then ran up a full count on leadoff hitter Roberts, playing just his second game this season after getting recalled from Triple-A Ottawa to replace injured second baseman Jerry Hairston.

He had just three home runs and no grand slams in 406 major-league at- bats. That changed when he crushed a Percival pitch into the old bullpen in right field, erasing a 4-3 Angels lead.

In a flash, Ortiz's solid outing and a patient if not spectacular offensive night were wasted.

Jorge Julio made sure they went to waste by registering his second save in as many nights.

While Thursday's loss was dispiriting to be sure, Ortiz at least showed the form the Angels will need if they hope to sustain any semblance of consistent play.

Ortiz had given up at least four earned runs in four of his past six starts, including a seven-run doozy in his last outing at Edison Field. This time, were it not for an error by Troy Glaus, Ortiz (5-4) might have held the Orioles scoreless.

He pitched 6 1/3 innings, giving up just one earned run. He gave up a pair of singles to start the seventh, and after a sacrifice bunt, yielded to Donnelly.

Donnelly got Gil and Roberts to pop out, preserving the lead for Ortiz and stretching to 11 his streak of runners stranded.

In the eighth, his perfect ERA was finally sullied after 24 1/3 innings when he gave up a one-out double to Carlos Mendez, who was making his first major-league appearance, and then an RBI single to Jay Gibbons. But he got Tony Batista to foul out, bridging the gap to Percival.

Baltimore starter Jason Johnson was dominant most of the evening but had trouble with Angels catcher Bengie Molina.

Molina singled and scored in the third for a 1-0 lead, as the Angels scored first for just the third time in 10 games.

After Tony Batista's two-run single in the fourth gave Baltimore a 2-1 lead, Scott Spiezio was hit by a Johnson pitch to start the fifth. Molina drove him home with a double to right-center field, and Eckstein's double drove home Molina with the go-ahead run.

Johnson struck out seven and looked strong from the outset, when he struck out four consecutive Angels. But the Angels finally got rid of him in the seventh, when Jeff DaVanon and Eckstein drew leadoff walks and Adam Kennedy drove home DaVanon with an opposite-field double for what seemed to be a key insurance run.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

A grand slam by the Orioles' Brian Roberts (second from left) brought in teammates Geronimo Gil, left, Gary Matthews Jr. (36) and Deivi Cruz (11) in the ninth inning against Angels closer Troy Percival.

Chris Urso/Associated Press
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 23, 2003
Words:765
Previous Article:ANGELS NOTEBOOK: NEW OWNER GREETS IN 2 LANGUAGES.
Next Article:ESTRADA GIVES WAKE-UP CALL LEADOFF BATTER LEADS PEPPERDINE INTO WCC CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES.



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