CHICAGO — Wrigley Field is known as the “Friendly Confines,” but the Orioles have had their share of challenges in two games this weekend here on Chicago's North Side.
The Orioles waited through a 3-hour, 9-minute rain delay Saturday in a game that began in a heavy fog. And while this Orioles club has overcome its share of adversity — including the loss of catcher Matt Wieters and now third Manny Machado to season-ending injuries — over the course of the season, they have stumbled against a Cubs club that's out of the playoff race and motivated only by pride.
The Orioles had won eight straight series before heading out on their nine-game road trip, but their 7-2 loss to the Cubs before an announced 37,156 ensured that they would lose two of the trips' three series.
They still lead the American League East by seven games over the New York Yankees and by eight over the Toronto Blue Jays, and have baseball's best record since June 30, going 31-15 in that span. But after sweeping a three-game series against the White Sox on Chicago's South Side, the Orioles (73-54) have scored just three runs in two games in their first trip here since 2008.
If the Orioles lose today, they will suffer their first sweep since losing three to Detroit in mid-May; it would also mark their first losing streak of three games or more since dropping four straight in Milwaukee and Houston in late May.
The Cubs (57-72), meanwhile, won their first series since taking two of three from the Colorado Rockies on Aug. 5-7.
“We've been in those shoes, too,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of the Cubs. “They're a good, solid, aggressive bunch, and they're trying to establish themselves in their organization. They've got a lot of good young players. … Their intensity level is always going to be good. They've got a lot of things to establish and prove, as we do.”
Once play resumed after the Orioles' longest delay this season, they managed just two hits against the Cubs' bullpen in seven innings.
“We didn't swing the bats particularly well, and they pitched well,” said Orioles catcher Nick Hundley, who had one of the Orioles' hits after the delay. “That happens sometimes. If it rains earlier or it rains later, you don't know what's going to happen. Unfortunately, they got after us pretty good, and it'll be a challenge to go out there tomorrow and try to win.”
Before the skies opened up to heavy rain, Orioles right-hander Bud Norris labored through a four-run second inning that was capped by Chris Coghlan's bases-loaded, three-run triple. With the Orioles leading 2-1, Norris worked a full count to Coghlan before hanging an 88-mph pitch high in the zone that Coghlan sent into the right-field corner, clearing the bases and giving the Cubs the lead.
“It's tough,” Norris said. “We grind every pitch, every pitch, and to have him put a good swing on that pitch, it hurt me and us pretty big today, unfortunately. I've got to get better.”
Showalter said he knew Norris wasn't returning about 30 minutes into the delay; Wrigley Field has no indoor mounds where Norris could stay warm.
“He threw 30-some pitches in the second inning, so unless there was a real short delay, he wouldn't have gone back out there,” Showalter said. “But we had no place to keep him warm or throw, anyway, because the facility just doesn't allow it like other parks.”
Norris said the weather was a factor in the first two innings.
“You never want to make excuses, and I've never been that guy,” Norris said. “I never really will, but you are battling the elements. You're really grinding. I don't think I've had to go to the rosin bag more in one half-inning [than in the second inning]. A lot of foul balls, too. I felt like they were probably having a hard time seeing it out of the fog and stuff, but like I said, there were a lot of foul balls that half-inning, and it was a quirky half-inning for me and us. And it was a little frustrating in the same token, but I know I have to just forget it and get back out there the next time.”
Entering the game after the delay for Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks, right-hander Jason Grimm didn't allow a hit in three scoreless innings.
Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez, relegated to a bullpen role earlier this week, took over for Norris after the rain delay, making his first relief appearance since his major league debut Sept. 26, 2006.
Even though Jimenez had gone 231 appearances between relief appearances, he allowed just one hit in his first three innings of work before allowing a two-out, RBI single to Chris Valaika in the sixth inning, giving the Cubs a 5-2 lead.
Command problems were partly responsible for the demotion of Jimenez, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Orioles during spring training, to the bullpen. And a four-pitch leadoff walk to Ryan Sweeney came back to haunt him when he scored from second on Valaika's hit.
“He's a professional,” Hundley said of Jimenez. “He's going to go out there and try to do the best he can. When he's called on to go out there and try to do something he hasn't done a whole lot in the past, it's not going to be the easiest thing for him. But he went out there and battled, competed and threw strikes.”
The Cubs added another run on Anthony Rizzo's leadoff homer in the seventh off reliever Tommy Hunter, and Logan Watkins followed with an RBI double in the eighth, also off Hunter.
The Orioles scored first, just three batters into the game, after getting back-to-back doubles from Steve Pearce and Adam Jones. They took a 2-0 lead on Norris' infield single in the second inning, which scored J.J. Hardy.
The Orioles had five hits off Hendricks in two innings, including three doubles, but Hendricks' day was over after the rain delay.
Besides Hundley's seventh-inning single, the Orioles' only other hit was Adam Jones' single in the eighth, but he was thrown out attempting to extend the hit to a double.
“It's the end of August,” Hundley said. “We still got 30-something games to go. It's a long way from over. We are playing really good baseball; we are going to try to continue to do that. In a long season, you lose a couple in a row sometimes like this. We've been playing great. We are not going to let this hiccup affect us more than it should. We are going to go out and try to win tomorrow.”