There were options had the Orioles wanted to skip Jeremy Guthrie's start or, at the very least, push it back a couple of days to make sure the right-hander had recovered from a back strain.
But Guthrie wanted the ball, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter decided there were worse things than having his Opening Night starter on the mound looking to extend a two-game road winning streak.
That decision hung over the early innings Tuesday night as Guthrie was rocked for five quick runs and the Orioles never recovered in a 9-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates in front of an announced 33,806 at PNC Park.
"I didn't make very good pitches. I didn't have very good stuff," said Guthrie, who added that he felt 100 percent healthy. "My off-speed [stuff] was not crisp, and the fastball, a lot of mistakes were made with it. And they came out swinging."
On a night the franchise celebrated the 40th anniversary of its 1971 World Series victory over the Orioles, the Pirates (36-37) broke a four-game losing streak, scoring three times in the first inning and building a 5-0 lead by the bottom of the third.
The Orioles (33-38) got a solo homer from J.J. Hardy and a two-run shot by Adam Jones -- both in the fifth inning -- but they couldn't overcome the early deficit and an 0-for-7 performance with runners in scoring position. The Pirates' bullpen turned in 4 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of a shaky James McDonald, who was pulled by manager Clint Hurdle one out shy of being eligible for the victory.
The Orioles, who stranded 10 base runners, fell to 3-5 on this road trip heading into Wednesday afternoon's series finale.
"You've got to tip your hat to [their] bullpen," said Orioles third baseman Mark Reynolds, who reached base in three of his four plate appearances but made an error that led to a Pirates insurance run in the seventh when it had been a two-run game. It was his league-leading 16th error of the season. "They came in and did a great job. We weren't able to put anything together off them."
Pitching five days after leaving a start with back discomfort and four days after an MRI confirmed a strain, Guthrie allowed six runs (five earned) on 11 hits and three walks over 6 1/3 innings. He fell to 2-9 and is tied for the major league lead in losses. He has dropped his past three decisions and is winless since May 21.
"He gave us a chance," Showalter said. "Stuffwise, he was in good shape, one of the better fastballs he was carrying in a while. Just command of it wasn't really good. I'm proud of the way he gave us some innings. He's capable of better. I haven't talked to him since the game ended, but all indications are that he felt OK."
If Guthrie's back was bothering him, it wasn't evident in his velocity. His fastball was clocked in the low to mid-90s throughout his 97-pitch outing. However, his command wasn't on point, resulting in the most hits he has given up in a game this season and a series of well-struck balls. All three Oriole outfielders -- Jones, Luke Scott and Nick Markakis -- made nice running catches, and Jones turned in one of the better plays of the year with his lunging catch of Garrett Jones' would-be extra-base hit in the fifth.
Guthrie isn't one to make excuses, but his command issues made it easy to question how much he was affected by not getting in his usual preparation before his start. He threw a bullpen session Sunday in Washington, but it wasn't as extensive as he would typically throw two days before a start.
"Not difficult at all," Guthrie said when asked about his preparation before Tuesday's start. "I felt very comfortable going into the start."
The game was a reversal from Monday's series opener, in which the Orioles jumped on the Pirates for a season-high five first-inning runs and added two more in the second and one in the third to take an 8-1 lead.
This time, the Pirates tallied three times in the first inning as the first three batters Guthrie faced reached base. Jose Tabata led off with a sharp single to center field, and Josh Harrison blooped a single in front of Markakis in right field.
Garrett Jones brought them both in with a double to deep right-center field, and he came in to score on Neil Walker's sacrifice fly. The Pirates tacked on single runs in the second and third innings to take the 5-0 lead.
"I didn't get much better," Guthrie said. "I was pretty consistent throughout."
Facing an early deficit, the Orioles had men on first and second and two outs in the second, a man on second with no outs in the third, and men on first and second with one out in the fourth but couldn't score.
Second baseman Robert Andino stranded four runners in his first two at-bats and then stranded two more in the fifth when Chris Resop (3-2) relieved a seemingly out-of-gas McDonald with two men on. The Orioles had already scored three runs in the inning, thanks to Hardy's leadoff homer -- his ninth home run of the season -- and Jones' two-run shot, his 11th homer.
"It's just one of those nights," Reynolds said. "We have a chance to win the series tomorrow."
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