Orioles Are Put on the Spot In Loss to Cubs

Cubs 7, Orioles 4

Matt Albers
With Brian Burres scratched shortly before the game, Matt Albers, pictured, is forced to start but fails to survive the first inning. ( AP)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 26, 2008; Page E08

CHICAGO, June 25 -- Bad break No. 1 came a few hours before game time on Wednesday, when the Baltimore Orioles learned that scheduled starter Brian Burres's queasy stomach rendered him too ill to pitch. Bad break No. 2 came when his emergency replacement, Matt Albers, left the game in the first inning with shoulder soreness after facing just five batters.

Indeed, before the white-out could dry on the Orioles' original lineup card, they found themselves in a predicament, down two pitchers against the best-hitting club in the National League. It all led to bad break No. 3, a 7-4 loss to the Cubs before 40,754 on a muggy night at Wrigley Field, a predictable result considering the circumstances.

"It's hard to really put this one into context," said reserve outfielder Jay Payton, who hit a pair of two-run homers to knock in Baltimore's runs. "Tonight was out of the ordinary. You had two pitchers go down by the second inning or first inning or whatever it was. It was an unusual game for us. Unfortunately, we got the loss on top of it."

As far as the immediate future, the Orioles will be awaiting word on the severity of Albers's injury. With his versatility -- the right-hander who was acquired in the Miguel Tejada deal has filled every role, from spot starter to setup man -- Albers has established himself as a key cog in a revamped Orioles bullpen.

"He's going to get examined tomorrow by the doctor and we'll know more about that," Manager Dave Trembley said. "It's just an unfortunate situation."

All told, the Cubs sent 17 hitters to the plate in the first two innings and took a 6-2 lead at one point, all while the Orioles' bullpen essentially pitched all eight innings.

"You don't ever expect it to be in the first inning, but it's your job to be ready at all times," Lance Cormier said. "That's the one thing down there. We have to be ready whenever the phone rings -- whether it's the first or the ninth."

After the game, a grim-faced Albers described the injury only as "discomfort," though he admitted he has never in his career felt a similar sensation.

"Obviously I had a little shoulder discomfort so I was taken out of the game," he said. "It's precautionary and we'll get it checked out when we get back to Baltimore."

The Orioles weren't the only team to encounter a pregame issue. Left calf tightness forced Cubs Manager Lou Piniella to scratch Japanese star Kosuke Fukudome, who has been a catalyst in the Cubs' lineup in his first major league season. But Fukudome's absence paled in comparison to the havoc created by Burres's illness and Albers's injury.

Trembley said Burres will make his next start, and the left-hander would be available out of the bullpen on Thursday if health permits. And after Wednesday's strange breaks, Burres may need to feel better in a hurry.

In two spot starts this season, Albers was 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA, and a natural choice to step in for Burres.

"We'll pitch Albers and see how many pitches he can give us," Trembley said before the game. "I'm not sure. We'll go as long as he's able to do it."

That turned out to be all of five batters, a big reason that the Cubs scored four runs and batted around in the first. Albers already had allowed an RBI single to Aramis Ramírez and had just loaded the bases by walking Jim Edmonds on four pitches.

Albers said he felt discomfort after throwing a breaking pitch to Eric Patterson, the first hitter he faced in the game.

"I threw him a breaking ball and just felt a little discomfort," Albers said. "I tried to get through it a little bit and felt like it was best to just stop."

After a short conference at the mound, Albers left the game, his fate still in doubt.

"It's obviously something that I'm not real excited about, but it's a part of baseball," Albers said. "So we'll get it checked out and go from there."

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