"I'm just glad we don't have to face Roger Clemens again tonight," he said. "That's the first thing I thought about when I got up this morning. . . . I hope they don't try to send him out there again."
But Oates spoke -- and joked -- a little too soon.
The Red Sox sent Danny Darwin instead, and the Orioles had nothing to smile about after the veteran right-hander held them to two hits over 7 2/3 innings on the way to a 2-0 victory at Camden Yards.
Darwin, like Clemens the night before, carried a one-hitter into the eighth inning, but had to share the two-hit shutout with relievers Greg Harris and Jeff Russell.
Orioles starter Fernando Valenzuela turned in his longest performance since 1990, giving up seven hits in 8 1/3 innings, but as his luck would have it, the Orioles offense did not even come up with the two runs the club has been averaging with him on the mound. Valenzuela's third straight solid performance was only good enough to earn him his third loss of the year.
It had been nearly 10 years since the last time the Orioles had been shut out in back-to-back games. It had been 1,609 games since Dave Stieb and Jim Clancy turned the trick for the Toronto Blue Jays on May 21 and 22 of 1983. In case anybody was wondering, the all-time record is 2,097 games by the Detroit Tigers (1976 to '89).
The Orioles staged only one serious threat, putting runners at second and third in the eighth inning on a one-out walk to Leo Gomez and a two-out double by David Segui. But the inning ended when Harold Reynolds was called out on strikes on a pitch that he argued was well outside the strike zone.
It may have been a tough call, but that was not the reason the Orioles dropped the deciding game of the series. They haven't scored since Mark Leonard's sacrifice fly in the eighth inning Monday night gave them a victory in the series opener.
Valenzuela pitched resourcefully again, but he continues to get hurt in the early innings. This time, he gave up a leadoff home run to Scott Fletcher to open the game and had allowed two runs on six hits by the end of the third.
He had pitched his best game as an Oriole just five days earlier, but also gave up two runs over the first three innings and was not involved in the decision. The start before that, he allowed three runs in the first inning and gave up just one hit over the next six, only to end up with nothing to show for his first solid effort in the Orioles rotation.
Oates seems satisfied with what he's getting from his No. 5 starter. He recognizes that the club has given Valenzuela very little offensive help.
"In this league, if you can give up two or three runs a ballgame, you're going to be all right," Oates said. "I've been very pleased with the way he's been throwing the ball. There have just been some strange circumstances."
The Orioles knew what they were getting when they signed the veteran left-hander -- a wily pitcher who always seems to be working out of trouble -- and Valenzuela lived up to that scouting jTC report again last night. He gave up back-to-back hits in the second inning and worked out of trouble, then allowed three hits in the third for a second Red Sox run.
The third-inning rally wasn't exactly an exhibition of solid hitting. Luis Rivera reached first on a sharp two-hopper that tiptoed around Gomez for a hit. Billy Hatcher followed one-out later with a broken-bat liner that sailed just over the glove of Cal Ripken at short. Mike Greenwell moved Rivera to third with a fly ball to center and Ivan Calderon brought home the run with a perfect two-out bunt single that rolled slowly along the base line until it hit third base.
It may have been a cheap run, but it was very costly to Valenzuela, who has to be wondering if the only way to win around here is to pitch a shutout. The last time he did that was in 1990, when he threw a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Darwin picked up right where Clemens had left off the night before.
Brady Anderson opened the first inning with a drive to right field that was run down at the fence by Calderon, but that was hardly an indication of what was to come. Darwin retired the first six batters he faced and pitched to the minimum number of batters through the first seven innings. Segui led off the third with a single, but was doubled up on a ground ball by Reynolds.
RUNNING ON EMPTY
By far, Fernando Valenzuela has gotten the least offensive support of Orioles starting pitchers:
Pitcher .. .. Runs .. Starts .. Avg.
Valenzuela .. 9 .. .. 5 . .. .. 1.8
McDonald . . 29 .. .. 7 . .. .. 4.1
Sutcliffe .. 29 .. .. 7 . .. .. 4.1
Mussina . .. 30 .. .. 7 . .. .. 4.3
Rhodes .. .. 32 .. .. 6 . .. .. 5.3