Juan Guzman got a final audition this afternoon for the scouts who gathered behind home plate with their notebooks and opinions. And Guzman gave them something to talk about: a 93-mph fastball and a sinker that is virtually unhittable at times.
But he also allowed three home runs and was the losing pitcher in the Texas Rangers' 3-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in front of 43,711 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Third baseman Cal Ripken did not homer for the third straight game, leaving him at 399 as the Orioles depart for a six-game road trip to Seattle and Oakland. Ripken missed his 400th by inches in the third inning by lining a fastball by Mike Morgan off the left field wall for a double.
Ripken didn't get close the rest of the afternoon, grounding out in the fifth and popping out in the eighth.
"I didn't think it was going to be out," Orioles Manager Ray Miller said of Ripken's double, "but right at the end, you could see it had a chance. Cal is so strong that a ball like that almost gets out when it wouldn't even have a chance with a lot of guys."
Ripken wasn't alone on a day when the Orioles managed just three hits, all against Morgan. One of those hits was a triple by Mike Bordick that right fielder Roberto Kelly lost in the sun. Otherwise, their offense consisted of Ripken's double and a single by B.J. Surhoff. They didn't get a hit after the fourth inning and didn't have a base runner after the sixth.
As for Guzman (5-9), he may not have been perfect, but in a year when there's not a Randy Johnson available, he did enough to enhance his value as baseball approaches Saturday night's trading deadline.
"I did my job," Guzman said simply, acknowledging that he might have made his final start for the Orioles.
He was acquired last summer at the trading deadline and may now depart this week as the Orioles (46-55) attempt to pick up a young prospect or two and begin planning for next season. With scouts monitoring each of his starts, he has pitched well down the stretch, going six innings or more and allowing three runs or fewer in five of his last six starts.
"He doesn't throw 97 miles an hour like he used to," Rangers Manager Johnny Oates said. "But he still has good stuff."
Guzman has won just two of those starts thanks to an offense that has cranked out two runs or less three times. Today, he watched as Morgan (11-6) allowed one run in six innings. He then watched as the door closed completely when Oates turned the game over to baseball's hottest bullpen.
Rookie left-hander Mike Venafro of Chantilly retired four straight Orioles. Rookie right-hander Jeff Zimmerman retired both hitters he faced. Then Oates gave the ball to John Wetteland, who pitched the ninth for his 31st save.
Meanwhile, Guzman didn't make many mistakes, but the mistakes he did make went a long way. Kelly, Royce Clayton and Ivan Rodriguez all homered off him to help the Rangers run their record to 60-41 and open up a nine-game lead in the American League West.
"I couldn't do it all by myself," Guzman said. "I can't hit. Today, I needed some help from my teammates. I won the last game, 1-0. I was hoping for some runs this time. With a day game and hot weather, you want some help. I didn't want to win 1-0 again."
Guzman said he was unbothered by the knowledge he might have been making his last start for the Orioles. "I'm a professional," he said. "If I stay here, I'll go hard and show the team I can help win. That's what I've tried to do every game."
He said his preference was to stay, but he didn't say it with much passion.
"Basically, it doesn't matter to me," he said before adding: "I'd like to stay here. This is a good organization. They treat me first-class. I also understand it's a business. You don't know what's going to happen."
Orioles Notes: Ripken's double was the 1,009th extra-base hit of his career, tying him with Ernie Banks for 21st place on the all-time list. . . . Jesse Orosco pitched to two hitters in the eighth. It was the 1,066th appearance of his career, placing him third on the all-time list. Dennis Eckersley is just ahead at 1,071 games. . . . Zimmerman made his 26th consecutive scoreless appearance, stretching his scoreless streak to 29 innings. He hasn't allowed a run since May 22, 1999, when the Rangers were last at Oriole Park. He has lowered his ERA from 1.47 to 0.76 in that stretch, the lowest ERA in the majors among relievers. . . . Venafro left tickets for 40 family and friends for all three games.