BALTIMORE, May 2 -- It only appeared like a game from a few years ago, with the stands empty and the offense quieted, first by a rookie with dark sunglasses sitting on a round face, like a villain from a superhero movie, and then by a lightly regarded Toronto Blue Jays bullpen. An eight-game winning streak and a four-game lead in the standings had not been enough to bring out Baltimore Orioles fans. The announced crowd of 15,641 was the smallest in Oriole Park at Camden Yards history. By the top of the 12th inning, when Todd Williams had given up the deciding runs in the 6-2 loss to the Blue Jays, the small crowd had thinned out considerably more.
Those few fans who stayed for the entire game watched a rare occurrence. The Orioles' offense does not fail often. Only three times have they been shut out this season. This was only the second time they have scored just one or two runs. On Monday night, Gustavo Chacin and four Toronto relievers held the Orioles to seven hits in 12 innings -- none in the final six innings.
The Blue Jays' Gregg Zaun races to first base as Orioles pitcher Rodrigo Lopez can't catch up to an errant throw by first baseman Jay Gibbons.
(Joe Giza -- Reuters)
"Does that surprise me?" Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "Yeah. You don't think that will happen."
Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada, the Orioles' third and fourth hitters, were a combined 0 for 10. Baltimore's lead in the American League East dropped to three games.
If there is a reason to fear a collapse by the Orioles, it most likely will come from a faulty defense. In the first inning with the bases loaded and two outs, first baseman Jay Gibbons misplayed a ball that rolled deep into the infield near the first base line. Gibbons gloved the ball well enough, but his throw to pitcher Rodrigo Lopez was high, tipping off the pitcher's glove, allowing the second run of the inning to score. The run proved crucial.
"It was a really hard play," Lopez said. "When Gibby caught the ball he was way down the line. It was a difficult throw. I was trying to make the play, but I'm short, only 5-11."
Lopez had started the game badly. The first two Blue Jays reached base on singles. Leadoff man Reed Johnson scored the first run of the game on a single by Corey Koskie.
Lopez then hit designated hitter Shea Hillenbrand to load the bases. The worst appeared over when Lopez was able to retire first baseman Eric Hinske on a foul pop to the catcher. But Gibbons's error extended the inning.
Lopez regained his composure after the first and had a solid outing. He allowed more than one base runner in an inning only once after the first. He finished after having pitched 6 1/3 innings. Only one of his runs were earned.
In sweeping a three-game series against Toronto in late April, the Orioles pounded Blue Jays pitching, outscoring Toronto 24-7. But they did not face the surging Chacin, who on Monday was named the American League's rookie of the month for April. The lefty does not dominate, but simply is efficient. Chacin has allowed more than two runs once in six starts this season.
His fastball tops off only in the high eighties, yet his other pitches -- change-up, breaking ball, cut fastball -- are deceptive. Chacin struck out only two hitters in 7 1/3 innings, yet was almost unhittable. The Orioles' first rally against him came in the fourth when Sammy Sosa and Javy Lopez walked with two outs. But Gibbons, on the first pitch, fouled out to catcher Gregg Zaun.
Chacin had broken several bats during his stellar outing. But it was a broken bat that had helped tie the game in the sixth. Javy Lopez drove in the first Baltimore run with a double to center field, scoring Sosa. Lopez stood at second base when Gibbons sent a flare to left field. Gibbons's bat had been shattered and it stands to reason that if the ball had been hit solidly it would not have allowed the slow-footed Lopez to score. After Gibbons's single, Chacin looked toward the backstop and roared in frustration. At the top of the dugout steps, an entire team greeted Lopez.
The usually reliable Williams was ineffective. He loaded the bases and then allowed a two-run single to Zaun for the deciding runs.
"I feel like I let the team down the way I threw," Williams said.
Good thing for him there was hardly anyone in the stands to notice.