Because of a flurry of trade activity earlier in the day that featured three teams and 11 players changing addresses, the Toronto Blue Jays faced the Orioles Wednesday night with just a 22-man roster and without three regular members of their bullpen.
But in reality, the only guy that they really needed was on the mound, and aside from one inning, talented left-hander Ricky Romero didn't give the Orioles much of a chance.
A night after their best offensive output of the season, the Orioles were held to just four hits by Romero, who pitched 8 1/3 shutout innings in a 3-0 win over the Orioles in front of an announced 16,861 at Rogers Centre.
"That's baseball," said Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis, trying to explain how a team looks so dangerous offensively one night, and so overmatched the next. "The guy pitched his butt off on the mound. We could have had him early, but we let him off the hook. When you do that against good pitchers and they get in a groove, it's tough to battle back the rest of the game."
The Orioles (41-59) did bring the tying run to the plate with one out in the ninth inning, but Blue Jays closer Jon Rauch, who entered after Romero hit Derrek Lee with a pitch, retired Matt Wieters on a first-pitch lineout, and then Mark Reynolds on a flyout to end the game.
The Orioles went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven runners in getting shutout for the fourth time this season, three of them coming over their past 14 games. They've also scored just three runs during Alfredo Simon's past four starts.
"I still thought that if it stayed at three, we'd make a run at them," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "We brought the tying run to the plate and Mark just missed that last ball. But little things add up."
The little things that Showalter spoke of included Simon allowing two more two-out runs over his five uneven innings, the Orioles not scoring despite having men on first and second and nobody out in the second, and Lee failing to score from third on a Romero pitch that got past Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia and went straight to the backstop.
Instead of immediately reacting and heading home, Lee got a late break and then froze before returning to third. The run would have tied the game at one in the second inning and certainly made a comeback more plausible with Simon and three relievers (Chris Jakubauskas, Troy Patton and Kevin Gregg) keeping the Orioles' deficit at three runs.
"It was a tough read down there, one you'd like to see him make," Showalter said.
Losing in Toronto for the 22nd time in the past 25 tries, the Orioles will get one more chance to break a seven-series winless streak and win their first series since June 24-26 in tonight's series finale. By then, the Blue Jays roster will be at full strength.
Striking four days before the trade deadline, the Blue Jays acquired talented outfielder Colby Rasmus and three pitchers from the St. Louis Cardinals for starter Edwin Jackson, relievers Octavio Dotel and Marc Rzepczynski, and former Orioles outfielder Corey Patterson. Jackson, the main piece heading to St. Louis, was acquired earlier in the day, along with infielder Mark Teahen, from the Chicago White Sox for reliever Jason Frasor and prospect Zach Stewart.
Dotel, Rzepczynski and Frasor were in the bullpen and Patterson started in left field a night earlier when the Orioles tallied season-highs in runs (12) and extra-base hits (eight).
The thought process was that if the Orioles could get to Romero early and get into Toronto's depleted bullpen, they would be in great shape. Even with Simon struggling early, allowing RBI singles to Jose Bautista and Eric Thames in the first and second innings and a homer to Arencibia in the fourth, the Orioles still had hope that could happen.
But Romero never allowed it to, getting a big double-play ball off the bat of Reynolds with runners on first and second and no outs in the second, and then retiring Blake Davis with runners on the corners and two outs after Lee failed to come home on the ball that got by Arencibia.
"He was pretty good," said Davis who was a former roommate and teammate of Romero's at Cal-State Fullerton. "He's coming at you with all his pitches and he battles. That's what he does. He works hard. That's why they're paying him what they're paying him."
Romero's pitch count was at 41 after two innings and 56 after three, but he got on a stretch where he retired 12 of the 14 hitters that he faced with the exception of Adam Jones' two-out double in the third and Jones' one-out single in the sixth. Vladimir Guerrero left him stranded both times, first with a groundout to shortstop and then with a double-play ball.
Romero, who threw 126 pitches, struck out nine, including five of the final nine hitters that he faced. Four of those strikeouts came against J.J. Hardy, who hit two homers and drove in four the previous night.
Romero is 5-1 in his past seven starts against the Orioles. In two starts against them at the Rogers Centre this season, Romero has allowed just one earned run, seven hits and seven walks while striking out 21 over 16 1/3 innings.
"He doesn't throw anything straight," Markakis said. "The ball cuts, it sinks. He puts it where he wants it. When you're doing that, you don't really need much off-speed. Even when it seemed to be over the plate, it was either cutting or sinking. Off a guy like that who is throwing 90 to 94, it makes it tough."