BALTIMORE — Newly acquired Baltimore Orioles left-hander Joe Saunders grew up in nearby Northern Virginia cheering for the team and said he spent a handful of times every season in the stands of Camden Yards.
The 31-year-old veteran was dealt to the Orioles from the Arizona Diamondbacks and suddenly found himself pitching for his favorite childhood team in a pennant race. The last time the Orioles were in a playoff push, Saunders was a teenager.
When the Orioles returned from batting practice before Wednesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox, they found out about the opportunity the night brought them. The New York Yankees’ afternoon loss to the Toronto Blue Jays gave the Orioles the chance to get within 2 1/2 games of the American League East lead with a win.
But Saunders’s Orioles debut Wednesday didn’t have a happy ending. He allowed four runs in the first inning, and the offense was held to just three hits in an 8-1 loss to the White Sox, snapping the Orioles’ four-game winning streak in front of an announced crowd of 13,098.
Five of the first seven hitters reached against Saunders (West Springfield, Virginia Tech) on four base hits and a walk, setting the tone for a disappointed outing for Saunders, who left the game after 5 1/3 innings charged with seven runs — six of them earned — on 10 hits with four strikeouts and two walks.
Over his last three starts, the first two coming as a member of the Diamondbacks, Saunders — the Orioles’ 11th different starting pitcher this season — has allowed 29 hits and 21 runs over a span of 15 innings for a 12.00 ERA.
The Orioles (71-58) were held to three hits by Chicago rookie spot-starter Dylan Axelrod, who entered the night with a 5.63 ERA. Axelrod allowed just one run over 7 1/3 innings — his longest outing of the season — and retired 13 straight Baltimore batters before a J.J. Hardy walk with one out in the eighth, his last batter.
It marked the Orioles’ lowest offensive output at home since they were held to one run on July 28 against Oakland, a span of 16 home games.
Saunders, acquired to give the Orioles experience and a third left-handed rotation arm, was battered by a White Sox batting order with seven right-handed hitters.
The White Sox (72-57) loaded the bases against Saunders four batters into the game — the only out was a Kevin Youkilis fly out to the warning track in center -- before Alex Rios lined a two-run double into the right-center field gap.
Two batters later, Alexei Ramirez slapped an opposite-field single to right that scored to more White Sox runs and put Saunders into an early 4-0 hole.