If the Baltimore Orioles had forgotten how tenuous success can be, how quickly momentum can be lost and how far they still have to go, their own foibles and the Chicago White Sox reminded them tonight. The Orioles played perhaps their worst defensive game of the season and reverted to their pattern of aimless pitching in a 9-3 loss, ending their winning streak at seven games.
During their streak, the Orioles (28-37) did not give up a home run; tonight they gave up three, including a grand slam by Paul Konerko off left-hander Jesse Orosco that broke open the game in the seventh.
During their streak, they consistently delivered key hits; tonight, they went 2 for 9 with runners in scoring position and left the bases loaded in the first and ninth innings.
During their streak, the Orioles made only one error; tonight, they made five and avoided a possible sixth thanks to the official scorer, who ruled a ground ball off the chest of third baseman Cal Ripken to be a hit.
"It was a tough day for us," said starting pitcher Juan Guzman, who gave up five earned runs. "We tried to stay in the game, but little things kept happening. It was like we were meant to lose."
Two of the Orioles' errors were by backup catcher Mike Figga, who was pressed into action in the top of the fifth inning after Charles Johnson left with nausea, resulting from a foul tip off his jaw. Johnson, a four-time Gold Glove winner, also made an error, as did right fielder Albert Belle and shortstop Mike Bordick.
Belle's gaffe drew a chorus of jeers from the 16,496 who turned out for Belle's return to Comiskey Park, where he spent the previous two seasons. He went 2 for 5, popping up weakly to end the game with the bases loaded.
It may be that this grueling stretch of baseball -- in which the Orioles play 19 of 25 games on the road -- is finally catching up to them. "Definitely," said first baseman Will Clark. "It seems like we've been on the road forever."
During the course of their winning streak, the Orioles lowered their team ERA by half a run, raised their batting average by nine points, gained 2 1/2 games on the American League East lead and pulled within eight games of .500 for the first time since May 11.
But tonight, White Sox left-hander Mike Sirotka (6-6), whose 2.54 ERA trails only Boston's Pedro Martinez in the American League, held the Orioles to three runs over 6 2/3 innings, although the Orioles hit several rockets for outs in key situations.
Meanwhile, Guzman (3-5) simply could not keep up the torrid pace of the club's starting pitching during the last two weeks.
While Guzman was 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in his previous four starts, including a complete-game shutout Saturday in Atlanta, his recent history is not one of consistency. He has not had consecutive winning starts since winning four straight last July and August.
Tonight, Guzman had trouble locating his fastball and got burned while trying to pitch from behind. Both homers he allowed -- a solo shot to left in the second by Magglio Ordonez, and a two-run homer to right in the fourth by Chris Singleton -- were on 2-0 pitches. The home runs were the first allowed by the Orioles since June 6, a span of nine games.
The Orioles, who rallied from four runs down in winning Tuesday night in Baltimore, tried to mount a charge tonight. B.J. Surhoff's two-run homer off Sirotka in the fifth inning, a 425-foot blast to straightaway center field, cut the White Sox' lead to 4-2. The homer was Surhoff's team-leading 14th of the season and extended his career-high hitting streak to 18 games.
The game was still within reach in the seventh inning when Orioles Manager Ray Miller removed Guzman -- who had thrown 122 pitches -- and brought in Orosco with one out and runners on second and third. But Orosco walked the man he was supposed to retire, switch-hitting Greg Norton, and fell behind 2-0 to Konerko before surrendering the grand slam.
"They were the right [batters] for Jesse," Miller said. "They were hitting .180 and .204 against lefties. But he fell behind [to Konerko] and threw a pitch down the middle."
CAPTION: B.J. Surhoff's two-run, fifth-inning homer, his team-high 14th of the season, proves not to be enough for the Orioles.
CAPTION: B.J. Surhoff's two-run, fifth-inning homer, his team-high 14th, earns him congratulations from Mike Bordick, left.