Short-Handed Orioles Drop Another Game

The Tigers' Omar Infante connects with an offering from O's reliever Jorge Julio in the eighth inning Saturday to give Detroit the lead.
The Tigers' Omar Infante connects with an offering from O's reliever Jorge Julio in the eighth inning Saturday to give Detroit the lead. (Matthew S. Gunby - AP)
By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 29, 2005

BALTIMORE, May 28 -- Sometimes you have to wonder how much longer the top team in the American League East will hold onto its perch. A week? Two weeks? The end of the next road trip?

The Orioles' clubhouse, which once resembled an all-star locker room, is now filled with strange faces and odd names plucked from the unlikeliest of places. Saturday, on the afternoon Baltimore sent a 20-year-old kid with a surfer's hairstyle to the mound for his big league debut, it also sent its third player in four days to the disabled list.

Replacing Larry Bigbie and his strained hamstring was Napoleon Calzado, an outfielder who had also never played a major league game and spoke little English. In his locker sat a gleaming bat with the name "Sammy Sosa."

"He has no bats so he is going to use the one Sammy gave him," said coach Elrod Hendricks, who was interpreting for him.

This is what it has come to for the Orioles, who are still in first by 3 1/2 games despite a 5-3 loss to the Tigers on Saturday.

They're down to calling up pitchers who can't legally drink and outfielders without bats.

"We have to weather the storm, we have to get through it," said Baltimore Manager Lee Mazzilli.

But with the Yankees surging, despite their loss Saturday, and the Orioles rolling injured players out the door, the storm might be getting more and more difficult to weather. Baltimore managed seven hits Saturday against Tigers starter Jason Johnson and finished the game with 11 straight outs. Even still, it might have had a chance to win the game had Tigers second baseman Omar Infante not slammed a Jorge Julio pitch over the left-center field fence in the eighth inning for the two-run homer that decided the game.

On the afternoon of his first major league start, Hayden Penn lounged on a couch with his catcher, Sal Fasano, watching the Yankees and Red Sox. He seemed not to know what to do, so he kept standing up, at one point walking over to his locker to inexplicably try on a batting helmet, at another to eat a banana.

For a few innings of his debut he was on fire, mixing a fastball in the mid-90s with a change-up a good 15 mph slower that kept the Detroit hitters off-balance. Through the first three innings he had four strikeouts. And he probably would have made it through the fifth with Craig Monroe's home run in the second as his only blemish. But on a key double play ball in the fifth, first baseman Rafael Palmeiro seemed to lose the throw from Miguel Tejada in the sun.

That allowed the Tigers to score one run and set up another in the inning that would be his undoing. He left after Ivan Rodriguez's double spoiled his 2-1 lead and gave the Tigers a 3-2 advantage. Mazzilli walked out to the mound, placed his hand on Penn's chest and said "great job, way to battle, way to stay poised." Then he sent Penn to the dugout as the 35,955 at Camden Yards gave the young pitcher a standing ovation.

"I thought he was outstanding," Mazzilli said. "I thought he threw very well. He walked a guy intentionally to set up a double play and then he got the double play ground ball and we didn't get it."

Mazzilli paused.

"He had an idea of what he wanted to do out there today," he said. "I don't know what you guys were doing at 20 years old but I doubt it was getting big league hitters out."

After that he had little to say. The biggest challenge of this still young season is upon the Orioles. After Saturday they will embark on their longest road trip of the season -- 12 games in Boston, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and they will be without their best pitcher -- Erik Bedard as well as their left fielder, center fielder and catcher. That is a lot to overcome.

Earlier Saturday, Javy Lopez, the injured catcher stood near his locker with a giant cast covering his broken right hand. He was asked if there could be a blessing in so much adversity, that perhaps the flood of injuries now will make the Orioles better when everybody returns.

"That's what I've been trying to tell people," he said. "It's better to have it now than at the end of the season."

Of course, they better hope it will matter come the end of the season.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company