SEATTLE -- The Orioles weren't ready for another episode of Wild Kingdome, but they returned to the not-so-great indoors yesterday and found the Seattle Mariners loaded for bear.
Right-hander Ben McDonald walked right into it, giving up seven runs in the first four innings to take the loss in a 7-1 blowout that proved how little can be taken for granted in baseball.
This game had Orioles victory written all over it. McDonald came into the game with a 6-1 record and a place among the league leaders in several statistical categories. Mariners starter Erik Hanson arrived with a 1-7 record and a 5.23 ERA. The Orioles came into the game with the best record in the major leagues. The Mariners came back from Tuesday night's loss in seeming disarray.
But none of that seemed to matter in the series finale. The Mariners jumped on top with two runs in the second inning and piled it on in a hurry. Ken Griffey pushed the lead to four with a two-run homer in the third, and Edgar Martinez broke the game open with a three-run shot in the fourth.
McDonald didn't know what hit him. He struck out the first two batters and appeared to have outstanding command, but the Mariners opened the second inning with three straight hits and didn't back off until the game was out of hand. He went on to strike out eight, but gave up eight hits and seven earned runs over five innings.
"I thought I had the best curveball I've had probably all year," McDonald said. "I was consistent with it, and it had a good break to it. It was one of those days when I thought I pitched pretty good."
Manager Johnny Oates agreed. He was incredulous when Martinez jumped all over a sharp McDonald curveball and hit it into the left-field bleachers.
"You hit a curveball the way Martinez did," Oates said. "You can't hit that like that if you know it's coming. It's tough to hit one that well in batting practice. I know he's a pretty good breaking-ball hitter, but that was a pretty good breaking ball to hit."
It was the second time in three starts that McDonald has been hit hard. He had an almost identical pitching line after his May 17 start against the Chicago White Sox. In that game, he gave up seven runs on eight hits in five innings and surrendered three home runs. In between, he worked seven strong innings to defeat the California Angels.
Hanson had not won a game since April 12, when he gave up a run on four hits to defeat the Kansas City Royals. He has had only one bad outing in May, but has pitched in some bad luck. The Mariners lost each of his first five May starts, four of them by a total of five runs.
This time, little was left to chance. Hanson gave up one hit through the first four innings and carried a shutout bid into the seventh. He gave way to left-handed reliever Russ Swan with the bases loaded and one out.
"He threw a pretty good game," said first baseman Randy Milligan, who had a double in three at-bats against Hanson. "You could think up a lot of reasons why we lost, but those would just be excuses. He threw all of his pitches for strikes. He just threw a good game."
Second baseman Bill Ripken broke up the shutout bid with a bases-loaded fielder's choice, but there was room to wonder why Oates did not send up Glenn Davis to hit in his place. Davis, who hit a pair of home runs the night before, was the one player on the Orioles bench with a real chance to get the club back in the game with one swing. He was held out of the starting lineup because of some back stiffness, but he did pinch hit later in a less critical situation.
"I wanted Billy to hit in that situation," Oates said. "He is one of the hottest hitters on the club right now and there was a left-hander on the mound. If there had been a right-hander out there, it might have been different. But even if you get a grand slam there, you're still down by three runs."
Davis eventually entered the game to pinch hit for Sam Horn with a runner at second and one out in the eighth. He grounded to shortstop.
The Orioles packed up and headed for Oakland, where they will open a three-game series against the Athletics tomorrow night at the Oakland Coliseum. No doubt, they left marveling at the vagaries of thegame. They won a game Tuesday night with a starting pitcher who was working on two days' rest, then couldn't compete yesterday, even though they had one of the game's best young pitchers on the mound.
The day after enjoying an offensive smorgasbord, the Orioles had to look long and hard to find an offensive highlight. Cal Ripken beat out an infield hit in the sixth and doubled in the eighth. Chris Hoiles and Leo Gomez reached base twice each, though they managed only one hit between them.
There was only one serious scoring threat, and it came long after the Mariners had put the game out of reach. The Orioles lost for the seventh time in their past 10 games, but Oates took it philosophically.
"I guess it's just time to go to Oakland," he said.