The energizing brilliance of great pitching and the drain of mediocre pitching were on display tonight at Veterans Stadium, wearing opposite uniforms and weaving opposite story lines for teams headed in opposite directions.
Philadelphia Phillies ace Curt Schilling, one of the best power pitchers in the game, spun another masterpiece, pitching a complete game in a 4-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in front of 28,182 spectators.
Meantime, Orioles starter Juan Guzman and rookie reliever Gabe Molina combined to walk 10 batters in the first seven innings, dooming the Orioles to their fourth straight loss and 14th in their last 16 games.
While it may be unfair to compare the Phillies' ace to the Orioles' combination of an enigmatic starter on the trading block and a rookie reliever with 12 innings of major league experience, it is a useful exercise.
The Orioles, who lead the American League in walks issued, gave up 11 tonight. Guzman (4-7) walked the bases loaded in the third; Molina did it in the seventh. Three of those runners came around to score. They were the difference in the game.
"If we don't walk 11 people, it's a good ballgame," said Orioles Manager Ray Miller. "I thought around the fifth inning we might win this game. If we didn't walk the bases loaded in the seventh, we might have."
Schilling (13-4), on the other hand, has given up just two walks in his last three starts, covering 24 innings, while striking out 26 in that span.
"He's throwing 97 miles per hour in the ninth inning," said Orioles first baseman Jeff Conine, "and he can spot it, too. That's pretty tough."
While Guzman has pitched into the seventh inning just five times, Schilling went the distance for the seventh time this season. After the Orioles scored a run in the top of the ninth, on an RBI groundout by pinch hitter Harold Baines, Schilling struck out rookie Jerry Hairston to end the game with the tying runs on base.
If Guzman is indeed auditioning for teams looking for another starting pitcher down the stretch, he didn't help his case tonight. He balked a runner into scoring position in the first inning (the runner later scored). He walked the bases loaded in the third inning with two outs. He walked the pitcher in the fourth. He threw a wild pitch in the fifth.
That Guzman would put the Orioles in an early hole should come as no surprise. Opposing batters are hitting .333 against him in the first inning this season, as opposed to .258 the rest of the game. He has allowed at least one earned run in the first inning in 11 of his 19 starts.
Tonight, the Orioles had Guzman warm up and pitch a simulated first inning in the bullpen before taking the mound for the real thing. It didn't help. Three batters into the game, Guzman was down 2-0, after Bobby Abreu hit a two-run double.
"I don't feel comfortable when I come from the bullpen to the mound," Guzman said. "I've been trying everything. In the bullpen I'm fine. When I come to the mound, it's different."
As usual, Guzman settled down and pitched an acceptable game. But his high pitch count in the early innings -- he threw 42 pitches in the first two innings -- ensured he wouldn't last long.
The lineup the Orioles fielded against Schilling was missing four key left-handed bats -- Will Clark and Brady Anderson, who were out with nagging injuries; Delino DeShields, who is on the disabled list; and Baines, the designated hitter whose duties in interleague road games are limited to pinch-hitting.
"I'm proud of our lineup," Miller said. "It wasn't the best lineup I could write to face Curt Schilling. But we battled, got eight hits and had a chance to win."
Facing a lineup with only one left-handed batter (B.J. Surhoff), Schilling retired the first 10 batters before Mike Bordick's single, Surhoff's double and Albert Belle's RBI groundout put the Orioles on the board.
After stranding four runners from the sixth to eighth innings, the Orioles saved their biggest chance for last. Trailing 4-1 entering the ninth, Cal Ripken doubled with one out, went to third on a single by pinch hitter Clark and scored on Baines's grounder. After Schilling walked Jeff Reboulet, he blew away Hairston to end the game.
CAPTION: Left fielder B.J. Surhoff, left, and center fielder Rich Amaral collide after Surhoff catches a fly ball hit by Ron Gant.