Jeff Ballard didn't get shelled last night. He pitched 5 2/3 innings and gave up four runs in an outing that Baltimore Orioles manager John Oates described as "routine."
The problem is, he lost for the ninth time in 13 decisions, which is not the kind of routine the Orioles were looking for when they named him the No. 1 starter at the beginning of the season.
The Detroit Tigers jumped out to an early lead and held on to score a 4-3 victory in the second game of the three-game series at Memorial Stadium. Cecil Fielder's 19th home run of the year proved decisive, but only because the Orioles staged a middle-inning comeback that fell one run short.
Ballard fell behind in a hurry again, then regained his composure to work into the sixth inning, but he has won just twice in the past two months. It was a typical Ballard outing -- he has given up three or four runs in eight of his 16 starts -- but it would have taken more than a typical Orioles offensive performance to make him a winner.
"That's the type of pitcher Jeff is going to be," Oates said. "He is not going to be like a Ben McDonald and just blow people away. Jeff is a finesse pitcher."
Even Ballard, however, has grown tired of this routine.
"I wouldn't say it was a normal outing," he said. "It was below normal, but it wasn't a terrible game.
"The only way I'm going to win is to shut them down for the first three innings. You give up three runs in the first couple of innings and it causes everybody to sag a little bit. That's what irritates me most about a game like this."
The Tigers scored two runs in the first inning and another in the second to stake Bill Gullickson to an early lead en route to his 10th victory, though nothing as insurmountable as the nine-run, first-inning explosion by the Cleveland Indians in Ballard's previous start.
Ballard walked Tony Phillips to lead off the game and gave up a run-scoring double to Travis Fryman before recording the first out.Fielder drove in the second run with a single through the middle, raising his league-leading RBI total to 61.
No. 9 hitter Milt Cuyler got the Tigers started in the second inning with a single to left and scored on a double by Phillips.
The Orioles had right-hander Todd Frohwirth warming up in each of the first two innings, but Ballard settled down to work into the fifth before Fielder added to the lead with a towering home run to center field that tied him with Chili Davis for the American League lead. It was the 12th of the year surrendered by Ballard, who leads the Orioles in home runs allowed (and innings pitched).
Though Ballard's 5 2/3 -inning, nine-hit performance was an improvement on his previous start, it was not exactly what the manager had in mind.
"To give us some stability in our rotation, we need a good #F performance from Jeff," Oates said before the game. "We're just looking for consistency. We're looking for something to build on."
Ballard was just looking for a victory. He has won just once in his past six starts, dating back to May 30. His ERA over that period is 7.55.
"Jeff is not throwing as well as he did in spring training and he isn't getting the results he got in spring training," Oates said. "But he hasn't been a disgrace. He has been getting us into the late innings with a chance to win."
Oates gave Ballard every opportunity to recover last night, and the Orioles fought back with three runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, though the rally wouldn't have been possible without a helping handout from the Tigers defense.
Fryman dropped a leadoff looper by Joe Orsulak for an error that led to all three runs. One out later, Bob Melvin doubled into the left-field corner, and Juan Bell brought home the first run of the inning with a bouncer to second that should have been the last out of the inning. Instead, Mike Devereaux followed with an RBI single and ended up at third when catcher Andy Allanson tried to pick him off first.
Allanson might have succeeded, but there was only one problem. Fielder was not holding Devereaux on the bag, so there was no one to take the throw. By the time the ball was retrieved in the right-field corner, Devereaux was standing at third. Brady Anderson followed with a single, and it was a one-run ballgame.
The Orioles had two runners on in each of the last three innings, but they never did get that last run. Closer Mike Henneman held them scoreless the final two innings to record his 12th save.
Tigers first: Phillips walked. Fryman doubled to center, Phillips scored. Deer lined out to first baseman Milligan. Fielder singled to center, Fryman scored. Tettleton lined out to third baseman Gomez. Barnes singled to left center, Fielder to second. Shelby flied out to left fielder Anderson. 2 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Tigers 2, Orioles 0.
Tigers second: Allanson struck out. Cuyler singled to left. Phillips doubled to left, Cuyler scored. Fryman grounded out to third baseman Gomez. Deer popped out to second baseman Bell. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Tigers 3, Orioles 0.
Tigers fifth: Fryman grounded out to third baseman Gomez. Deer grounded out to third baseman Gomez. Fielder homered to center on 0-0 count. Tettleton safe on shortstop C.Ripken's fielding error. Barnes popped out to third baseman Gomez. 1 run, 1 hit, 1 error, 1 left on. Tigers 4, Orioles 0.
Orioles fifth: Orsulak safe on shortstop Fryman's fielding error. Gomez struck out. Melvin doubled down the left field line, Orsulak to third. Bell grounded out to second baseman Phillips, Orsulak scored. Devereaux singled to center, Melvin scored. On catcher Allanson's throwing error, Devereaux to third. Anderson singled to right, Devereaux scored. C.Ripken grounded into fielder's choice, third baseman Barnes to second baseman Phillips, Anderson forced at second. 3 runs, 3 hits, 2 errors, 1 left on. Tigers 4, Orioles 3.