The Baltimore Orioles had gotten so used to winning, so used to showering to the happy strains of Neil Diamond -- their kitschy, postgame victory music of choice during their recent hot spell -- that losing tonight and dressing in a silent clubhouse seemed foreign.
Tonight's 5-0 loss to their division rival Boston Red Sox in front of 45,086 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards was just their second loss in the last two weeks. It snapped a four-game winning streak and evened this three-game series at one game apiece.
The Orioles (32-38) had not been shut out since the third week of April, when they were blanked three times in the span of a week. But it was a different offense back then. At that point, the Orioles were hitting .252; they came into tonight's game batting .284.
During the 11-1 streak that began to turn their season around, the Orioles had production throughout the order. But tonight, the Orioles came up empty against Red Sox starter Bret Saberhagen (3-2), right-hander Derek Lowe and knuckleball closer Tim Wakefield, going a combined 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position.
Saberhagen "is one of the best pitch-makers of all time," Orioles Manager Ray Miller said. "He's a tough guy to get hits off. He's a consummate pitcher."
The Orioles were within striking distance until the ninth, when reliever Ricky Bones gave up three runs.
Orioles starter Juan Guzman (3-6), who has lacked only consistency since pulling himself out of an April funk, struck out seven batters in the first three innings. He stranded Darren Lewis at third after a leadoff triple in the first inning and struck out the side in order in the third.
But the wildness that constantly crept into Guzman's pitching finally hurt him in the fifth. After nicking Lewis with an inside fastball that sailed up and in, Guzman gave up a two-run homer to John Valentin that gave the Red Sox a 2-0 lead. Valentin came into the game batting .370 with two homers in his career against Guzman.
"He usually starts running into problems around the 85-pitch mark," Miller said, "and that's when he gave up the homer."
Said Guzman: "That was probably the best stuff I've had all year. But it would have been easier to pitch if we had scored a few runs. When you're behind, you try to be too fine and you end up making a mistake."
Right-hander Scott Kamieniecki and left-hander Jesse Orosco -- who made his 1,050th career relief appearance, tying Kent Tekulve for the all-time record -- kept the Orioles in the game. But Bones sucked the air out of the Orioles, giving up a solo homer to Reggie Jefferson and three other hits to blow open the game in the ninth.
Saberhagen, just off the disabled list with a lacerated left foot, gave the Red Sox his usual solid outing, shutting out the Orioles over 5 1/3 innings. Saberhagen, the 1985 and 1989 American League Cy Young Award winner, was pitching with five stitches in his foot.
Miller gambled tonight by resting red-hot designated hitter Harold Baines, who was hitting .427 in his last 27 games but who is a career .173 hitter (9 for 52) against Saberhagen. Jeff Conine, a career .455 hitter (15 for 33) against Saberhagen, got the start instead, but went 0 for 3, twice failing to produce in key situations.
In the second inning, Conine tapped back to the mound, failing to advance Will Clark to third after Clark doubled to lead off the inning. And in the sixth, with runners on first and second and one out, Conine popped up to shortstop.
Miller said he thought about using Baines to pinch-hit for Conine, but didn't want to waste his best pinch hitter and the only left-handed batter on the bench in the sixth inning.
The key defensive play of the game came with one out in the fifth, when Boston left fielder Damon Buford threw out Cal Ripken at the plate when third base coach Sam Perlozzo waved Ripken around from second on Charles Johnson's single. Ripken beat the throw to the plate, but catcher Jason Varitek, in textbook form, blocked the plate with his right shinguard.
"I had a great view of the play," Miller said. "That's why I didn't argue."
CAPTION: Cal Ripken is tagged out at home plate by Red Sox' Jason Veritek after he tried to score from second base on Charles Johnson's fifth-inning single.