BALTIMORE - The Camden Yards debut of the organization's top prospect would've been the only aspect of a Baltimore Orioles September game that mattered from 1998-2011.
But this is 2012 and while the 30,205 in attendance gave Dylan Bundy a rousing ovation when he entered Tuesday night's game, his appearance was secondary to the Orioles' pursuit of a playoff berth. And Baltimore did nothing to bolster its postseason prospects with a 4-0 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Orioles remained 1½ games behind the Yankees in the American League East with seven games remaining. They have dropped three of their last four since their season-best six-game winning streak.
After playing the traditional AL East powers so well over the past four weeks, how ironic it would be if the last-place Blue Jays kept the Orioles from winning the division. Baltimore is 5-2 against the Yankees, 3-0 against the Rays and 2-1 against the Red Sox since Aug. 31, but lost for the second straight game - and third time this month - to Toronto.
Center fielder Adam Jones said the team isn't pressing or worrying about scoreboard watching.
"Trying to get runs on our scoreboard," he said. "We're still enjoying ourselves and we're still having fun ... that's what we've been doing since the first day of spring training. Now we're just in position to make each game matter. It's a cool position to be in. We've just got to come through."
The Orioles managed just six hits and were shut out for the first time since Aug. 3 by unheralded left-hander Aaron Laffey (4-6) and five relievers. They loaded the bases in the ninth inning - the third consecutive loss in which they've done that and had a chance to tie or go ahead - but Ryan Flaherty flew out to end the game.
Orioles starter Joe Saunders allowed 11 hits and four runs (three earned) in 6 1-3 innings, but walked no one and might've been in line for a win had the Orioles been doing anything against Laffey & Co.
"Joe gave us a chance to win, we just didn't do much with the bats," Orioles manager Buck Showatler said. "The few opportunities we had, we couldn't cash in."
J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters had two hits apiece, but the Orioles went 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base.
Before the game, the 19-year-old Bundy, rated before the season as the top prospect in baseball by Baseball America and ranked No. 2 after the minor league season by mlb.com, accepted the Jim Palmer Award, given annually to the Orioles' minor league pitcher of the year after going 9-3 with a 2.08 ERA with three of the organization's affiliates.
Bundy came on to pitch the top of the ninth after making his major league debut Sunday in Boston. He struggled a bit with his control, walking the leadoff batter and then yielding a bloop single, but he induced a fly ball and a double play grounder to get out the inning. He has now pitched 1 2-3 scoreless innings in the big leagues.
He said he wasn't as nervous as he was on Sunday and that he was too focused on doing his job to hear the crowd cheering for him. He also wasn't wild about the way he pitched.
"I just wasn't commanding any of the pitches except my changeup. Fastball command was brutal tonight," said Bundy, who is pleased to be getting this experience. "It's definitely getting my feet wet. Getting used to the whole major league side of it, getting used to the strike zone, getting used to these kind of hitters and learning how to pitch."
Showalter said he wanted to be sure to get Bundy into at least one road game and one home game during his stint with the team.
"I know our fans have been wanting to see him," Showalter said. "That had nothing to do with the decision to bring him in. ... Oh, maybe a little bit."
The winner of the Orioles' Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year Award, L.J. Hoes, made his major-league debut when he pinch-ran in the ninth inning.
The Blue Jays had lost seven consecutive games before taking the second game of a doubleheader from Baltimore Monday. They are 8-15 in September, but have won three of their last four against the Orioles.
Laffey hadn't won since Aug. 5 and had failed to make it out of the fourth inning in either of his last two starts, walking eight, but the Orioles were a bit impatient against the 27-year-old who was born in Cumberland. He got through 5 2-3 shutout innings on just 64 pitches.
"We kind of fell behind tonight and we got pretty aggressive," Showalter said. "That's not always good with a guy that depends on your aggressiveness to get you out."
The Blue Jays had a four-hit first inning, scoring first on Van Gomes' two-out RBI single. It stayed 1-0 until the fourth when Rajai Davis reached on an infield hit with two outs and Adeiny Hechavarria doubled him home.
"Two-out runs suck," said Saunders.
The Jays scored two more in the seventh on three singles and a Manny Machado error, but got out without further damage largely because of an outfield assist by Chris Davis.
The Orioles never came up with a timely hit of their own. They put two on with two out in the first but Mark Reynolds grounded out to end the inning. They wasted a leadoff single in the fourth with a double play grounder by Reynolds. They put two on with one out in the seventh, but pinch-hitters Jim Thome and Flaherty fanned and grounded out. Finally, they loaded the bases in the ninth on an error and two walks. But Flaherty, swinging at the first pitch, flew out to shallow center to end the game.
While the mini-slump comes at a bad time, there appears to be no panic.
"I think we're fine," Saunders said. "I think we might be a little bit tired, but you've got to fight through that, especially this time of year."