By Dan Connolly, The Baltimore Sun
9:17 PM EDT, September 1, 2011
Heading home last weekend after an exhausting and emotional three-city road trip, the Orioles were hoping to build on their four-game sweep in Minnesota.
What awaited them at Camden Yards, however, was a moving tribute to late Orioles pitcher and executive Mike Flanagan last Friday, a hurricane Saturday, a doubleheader Sunday, an extra-inning win Tuesday, a blowout defeat Wednesday, a traffic jam of epic proportions Thursday and a Toronto Blue Jays offense that feasted on Baltimore pitching all week.
After an 8-6 loss to the Blue Jays in the series rubber match Thursday, the Orioles prepared to return to the road reeling from a 3-4 homestand that started 2-0 and was filled with oddities.
"We came off a long road trip, a West Coast trip, and then you had a lot of things go on. We missed two games [because of Hurricane Irene]. It was a weird homestand," Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis said. "We didn't play the way we wanted to or finish up the way we wanted to. But it is what it is. We move on, and we have another long road trip ahead of us."
The Orioles (54-81) have assured they will not finish over .500 for the 14th straight season. One more loss and they'll officially pad their franchise-worst record of consecutive futility, which dates to 1998.
Thursday's loss was an uninspired one played before an announced 11,617, but the actual attendance was a fraction of that. The atmosphere was more reminiscent of the annual high school all-star contest played here than a major league baseball game.
The legion of empty seats at Camden Yards probably had more to do with logistics than losing baseball, at least for one afternoon. Game time was moved up more than six hours to accommodate final touches on the Grand Prix downtown this weekend, but early street closures snarled traffic for hours outside the ballpark.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said three of his players hadn't made it to the park 90 minutes before the first pitch and his commute time from his northern Baltimore County home was more than doubled.
In anticipation of the gridlock, the club had Thursday's starting pitcher, Tommy Hunter, stay overnight at a downtown hotel. Hunter's day progressively grew worse after he arrived at Camden Yards.
In six innings, he allowed six runs (five earned) on nine hits, including a homer by Kelly Johnson. It was the fifth time in six starts for the Orioles that Hunter gave up four earned runs or more. But Showalter said the husky right-hander had an excuse Thursday.
Starting in the third inning, Hunter battled an illness -- or perhaps dehydration -- that caused him to become flushed and weak and, ultimately, to vomit. He ended up going to the hospital for treatment, was released later Thursday and will meet the team today in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"In fairness to Tommy, we found out now after the game, after he came out, in the third inning, he started to feel a little ill," Showalter said. "Got a little worse when he came out of the game. He was throwing up. So, I'll give him a mulligan there."
Hunter exited trailing 6-5, but the Orioles tied it in the bottom of the seventh on a run-scoring groundout by Vladimir Guerrero, his season-best fourth RBI of the day.
But the Blue Jays untied it in the eighth against Orioles reliever Willie Eyre (1-1), who served up a two-run homer to Toronto's outstanding rookie third baseman, Brett Lawrie.
"We were going inside [with the pitch]. I went back and looked [at a replay], and it looked like an all right pitch and he just got to it," Eyre said. "I got him in there a couple of nights ago, and he got to me this time."
It was Lawrie's seventh homer in 26 games since his call-up -- three have come at Camden Yards.
"He's a big ol' boy," Markakis said. "He can swing the stick, no question about that. Their whole team can swing."
In the three-game series, Toronto (69-68) amassed 26 runs and 42 hits. They have won 10 of 15 games against the Orioles this season after capturing 15 of 18 in 2010.
For their part, the Orioles scored six runs Thursday, paced by Guerrero's two-run double and 11th homer of the season, a solo shot against Toronto starter Luis Perez. Matt Wieters followed Guerrero's blast with his own, his 16th of the season and fifth in nine games. It was the fourth time the Orioles have hit back-to-back homers this year.
After touching up Perez for five runs in five innings, the Orioles scored just once more against four Jays relievers, including Shawn Camp (2-3) and Frank Francisco (12th save).
The final out came via a grounder by Markakis, who was hitless in eight at-bats in the series, which ended his streak of 182 consecutive series with at least one hit.
"All good things come to an end eventually," Markakis said. "You can't go on with things forever. You've just got to be consistent."
Consistency is something that has haunted the Orioles, as a team, all year. Coming off their best streak of their year, they have lost another series -- this time to the bashing Blue Jays.
"It's a hell of a three games for them. Trust me, I've seen it, running left and right for the balls," center fielder Adam Jones said. "But hey, that's what I'm out here to do. We've had a series when we swung the bats pretty well. It's just having that confidence and having the faith in the guy behind you."
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